SEBRING - As Highlands County Deputy Cory Tomblin waited to compete in a regional competition with canine unit member Remco Tuesday, he declined to predict how they would do.
"I don't want to jinx myself," Tomblin said.
Remco was one of dozens of law enforcement canines from Florida, Georgia and Alabama competing in the U.S. Police Canine Association Region 1 Field Trials and Certification. The top dogs will be eligible to participate in the national competition.
This was the first year that the Highlands County Sheriff's Office has participated in or hosted the event. The competition runs through Thursday and is open to the public. A special public event will be held Thursday, May 23, at the Sebring High School football field at 7 p.m., where the dogs will compete. Two children will receive bicycles in a free raffle during the event.
Remco, who will likely be part of the special event Thursday, had the task of locating the deputy hiding in one of several boxes at the Sports Complex. The participants were ranked by how much time it took for them to find the deputy.
Tomblin said Remco did "perfect," and determined that the deputy was in the second box he checked.
Ringo, another Highlands County canine, apparently wanted to be thorough, said Deputy Jose Molina, his handler.
"He took his time," Molina said, adding the dog went around the field about three times before finding the deputy. "He's an older dog."
Sgt. Kyle Albritton of the Highlands County Sheriff's Office said practicing and competing aren't the same.
"It's stressful, though you've done it 100 times in training," he said.
One difference between the two is that during the competition there's more distractions on the field than during the practice, he said.
Another challenge for the dogs was that the deputy who hid in the boxes would move to different boxes, leaving his scent in each box. Part of the aim, Albritton said, was for the dogs to distinguish between the old and new scents.
One dog from another county keyed in on one box, but the deputy had moved to another box. Some dogs almost immediately found the deputy. Others sniffed the boxes multiple times.
Lt. Jim McGann, who is in charge of the Highlands County canine unit, said he's waiting until the final results to determine how Highlands County does.
"It's not over until the proverbial fat lady sings," he said.