These loyal canines serve the greater South Bay community with a duty to rescue and protect

Truly man’s best friend.

  • Category
  • Written by
    Diane E. Barber
  • Photographed by
    Shane O’Donnell

Dogs have been heralded for centuries as man’s best friend. They have an innate ability to reach a place in people’s hearts that only a dog can. From standing alongside royalty to quietly easing the ways of the world for those suffering through hardships, their companionship is unparalleled. When you earn a dog’s trust and respect, their loyalty is steadfast and their capacity for unconditional love and acceptance is oftentimes astonishing.

My journey through life with faithful dogs by my side has significantly shaped my world as I know it. Thanks to my parents making them a part of our family, dogs romped beside me on foot and on horseback during some of my most memorable childhood years.

My father trained Labrador retrievers to hunt with him to put food on our dinner table, so I have always had a deep appreciation for working dogs. They take the human/animal bond to an even deeper level because the sky is the limit for what a good dog that has been treated with kindness and compassion will do for a good handler.

I have admired the working dogs in our South Bay community for many years, particularly the K9 unit at the Redondo Beach Police Department and the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s K9 search and rescue team. Having had the good fortune to spend time recently with a dog from both departments, my admiration is greater.

Though one has been trained to find bad guys and detect explosives and the other to rescue victims of tragic circumstances, the dogs are instinctively the same. They fearlessly navigate danger to serve their handlers, who are committed to serving us and saving lives.

Officer Kyle Lofstrom & Ammo

Redondo Beach K9 police officer Kyle Lofstrom had dogs when he was growing up in the South Bay. His quest to become a police officer took hold during his early teens.

“I was into the police thing when I was young,” he shares. “My grandmother was the secretary for the chief of the Redondo Beach Police Department (RBPD) in the ‘90s, and I went to open houses. When I was 13 or 14 I decided to become a law enforcement explorer and then later a cadet with the Torrance Police Department. After I graduated from CSULA with a degree in criminal justice, Redondo hired me.”

The first three years of Kyle’s patrol work was without a dog. When asked how he transitioned into the K9 unit, he says, “I became interested when I started my career and eventually began working with the team and decoying during training. Around year three I applied for an open spot and was fortunate enough to be at the right place at the right time to get it.”

In May 2016 a trainer in Santa Barbara County who provides dogs to the city of Redondo Beach partnered Kyle with Ammo, an aptly named 18-month-old German shepherd/Belgian Malinois from Hungary. Kyle and Ammo went to patrol school for six weeks followed by 10 weeks of explosives detection training.

Today the pair patrols together four days a week on 10-hour shifts. Wednesdays are dedicated to training with all five of the department’s dogs and handlers at various locations. Kyle and Ammo also work on obedience training every day with all commands in German, such as “fuss” (pronounced “foos”) for heel, “sitz” for sit and “platz” for down.

Ammo was bred for his instinctual behavior that makes him well-suited for his job. But he also had to be extensively trained for odor detection, obedience, searching, alerting and making an arrest. Training for arrests started with a toy and then progressed to a padded sleeve before he learned to apprehend a person acting as a decoy in a fully protective suit. Ammo had his first arrest and apprehended a suspect in a live situation last December.

“We are a perfect match. Ammo is high-energy and has a good sense of humor. He is very young, and we will continue to work together as long as we both remain healthy. And when it is time for him to retire, I will buy him from the city and he will spend the rest of his life with me.”

Ammo lives with Kyle, which begs the question, “How does the dog know when he is working and not working?” According to Kyle, “Certain things cue him, such as us walking through a side gate to a house, search commands, and me calling, ‘Is anyone inside?’ And, of course, when I pop the patrol car door and let him deploy. There are other cues he subconsciously understands, such as people being aggressive and arguing. All of those things get him excited. He perks up and barks when he knows he is working.”

Since Ammo is still young, when he is at home with Kyle he stays comfortably in a large dog kennel, which keeps him from becoming stressed for his safety and the safety of others. When they are off-duty, they are on-call for situations that require additional canine support, such as a robbery suspect hiding within a city block.

Kyle takes his dedication to his job and his canine partner beyond his on-duty responsibilities. He is committed to assisting the department with fundraising to secure a permanent training facility for the city’s K9 unit near the Redondo Beach Dog Park.

Fundraising efforts currently include the team partnering with Pooch Paramedic—a company that offers canine CPR and first aid classes to dog owners and dog service providers. A portion of the class proceeds are donated to the Redondo Beach Police Foundation to benefit the K9 team.

Additionally the RBPD K9 handlers have actively championed Assembly Bill 1776 to allow paramedics to treat and transport injured working police dogs by ambulance, which is a 2019 state pilot program. Currently, doing so is against the law.

As for the noteworthy partnership, Kyle proudly shares, “We are a perfect match. Ammo is high-energy and has a good sense of humor. He is very young, and we will continue to work together as long as we both remain healthy. And when it is time for him to retire, I will buy him from the city and he will spend the rest of his life with me.”

Firefighter Jake Armendariz & Clancy

Jake Armendariz wanted to be a firefighter since he was a kid. He had two role models who inspired him when he was growing up: a Redondo Beach neighbor who was a firefighter and his uncle who served in the U.S. Navy.

After Jake graduated from Redondo Union High School, he joined the U.S. Coast Guard and was stationed in Alaska for four years until he decided that he missed living in the South Bay. He returned home in 2004 and worked at Spyder Surfboards in Hermosa Beach and then as a casual longshoreman at the Port of Los Angeles before he was hired by the Los Angeles County Fire Department (LACoFD) in 2008.

Three years into his career, Jake realized that he wanted to specialize in something. Having been around dogs most of his life and seeing them working in law enforcement, he set his sights on working with dogs to help people.

“I was a firefighter for five years before I did any training with dogs,” he says. “I spent two years training with the K9 search and rescue (SAR) team without a dog to learn and build skills. Then I attended a K9 handlers course at the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation’s training center in Santa Paula, California. I was matched with a dog that was considered a good fit: a yellow Labrador retriever named Clancy who was a rescue dog that came from another task force. When I graduated, he was donated to LACoFD and he came home with me.”

According to veteran SAR teammate Captain Andy Olvera, “Jake went into training somewhat seasoned and proven dedicated to the program. This definitely contributed to him being paired with a seasoned dog. He later completed his FEMA certification in three months instead of the usual nine to 12 months.”

“We searched large, collapsed buildings, assisted by listening devices and cameras. Delayering [searching again after a f loor has been removed] and saving lives was our #1 job. Keeping the dogs excited and letting them do their jobs in the process was important. We train them with live people buried in rubble, so they understood what we were doing.”

Jake is currently stationed in Gardena with 6-year-old Clancy. They are also a part of an elite countywide team of 13 handlers and dogs (10 live search trained dogs and three human remains recovery dogs) that provides SAR emergency and natural disaster responses to Los Angeles County residents as LACoFD, to the nation as CA Task Force 2 and to the world as USA2.

Though Jake and his partner, Clancy, are easygoing and fun-loving by nature, when they are working they are a formidable pair. Though the conditions are unique for each working scenario, one thing remains constant for Jake and his dog: staying on task with an upbeat demeanor, which is at the heart of Clancy’s training.

The work is a game of hide-and-seek for his dog that is highly rewarded with praise and a coveted toy. And it is that game that keeps him on point to save lives. “Your attitude travels down the leash to your dog, and I need to keep my dog happy,” explains Jake. “To do that I must stay calm and present and keep my emotions in check at all times.”

Every emergency scenario that the pair and their team encounter—whether local, national or international—is unique and requires incredible diversity. LACoFD often gets calls for a vehicle over the side of a cliff. When the terrain is difficult for firefighters to traverse and there is the possibility that occupants have been ejected, dogs are very methodical and efficient.

Unlike urban searches with many human scents to sort through, open land makes a human scent an anomaly in nature and an easier mark. Urban searches to date for Jake and Clancy most notably included being deployed with the USA2 team to Mexico City after the 7.1 magnitude earthquake in 2017. They were on the ground for 13 days on rotation for 12-hour shifts supporting local programs in tandem with the admiral of the Mexican military and minister of the interior.

“We searched large, collapsed buildings, assisted by listening devices and cameras. Delayering [searching again after a floor has been removed] and saving lives was our #1 job. Keeping the dogs excited and letting them do their jobs in the process was important. We train them with live people buried in rubble, so they understood what we were doing.”

Other natural disasters that USA2 and Task Force 2 have responded to have been numerous, including the Nepal earthquake, the tsunami in Japan and major hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida.

Closer to home, Jake and Clancy went with five other live search dogs and three human remains dogs to assist in the aftermath of the Montecito mudslides in January. Clancy was able to get into structures that firefighters could not and then move on to search more buildings for potential rescues. “Clancy went up trees, on roofs and entered buildings through broken windows,” Jake proudly recalls.

Through countless local, national and international deployments, Jake, Clancy and the entire LACoFD SAR team have collectively garnered experience that benefits the residents of Los Angeles County in emergency situations and disaster relief. Though the K9 handlers are provided with the basic tools to do their job, they selflessly give more of what is needed to maximize the team’s performance potential with their own personal funds.

In response to that, Jake and his team started L.A. County Search Dogs, Inc. in 2018—a nonprofit organization that provides aid for each handler-and-dog team’s unique circumstances and needs. “It is an amazing privilege to not only represent LACoFD but to also represent the USA with our team when we provide K9 SAR services around the world,” says Jake, with Clancy by his side.

The late actor, writer and humanitarian Will Rogers succinctly summed it up for those of us who have had the good fortune to be loved by a dog: “If there are no dogs in heaven, then when I die I want to go where they went.” Yes, sir. Copy that, Mr. Rogers.

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