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A safe bet: Kids learn from cops at annual Safety Camp

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Ooh, that's gotta hurt! K-9 Gunnar demonstrates his takedown technique on Cottage Grove police officer Scott Shaver at the annual Safety Camp at Hamlet Park on June 25, 2019. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Cottage Grove Police Sgt. Nils Torning and K-9 Gunnar put on a demonstration for kids at the June 25 Safety Camp at Hamlet Park. William Loeffler / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

COTTAGE GROVE — K-9 Gunnar demonstrated his takedown technique on Cottage Grove police officer Scott Shaver at the June 25 Safety Camp at Hamlet Park.

The annual two-day camp drew at least 82 kids, who learned about bike, gun, kitchen and electrical safety, 911, fire prevention, and first aid.

Gunnar's handler, Cottage Grove Police Sgt. Nils Torning, told kids that Gunnar's main function is to sniff out drugs or contraband and to find people who are lost.

"They have an overwhelmingly good sense of smell," he said.

Gunnar, a Belgian Malinois, is also trained to chase and chomp down on anyone foolish enough to run from police.

"Would Gunnar rip someone's arm off?" one kid asked.

"No, he just hangs on," Torning said.

"Is there blood?"

"Sometimes."

Shaver said he played the bad guy with Torning and Gunnar in over 40 K-9 demonstrations last year. Despite the protective arm padding, you never quite get used to being a human chew toy, he said.

"It's pure aggression at its most natural form," Shaver said. "He doesn't know any better. It's his job."

The camp was organized by Cottage Grove Parks and Recreation with help from the Cottage Grove Department of Public Safety. The Minnesota Highway Patrol landed a helicopter and the Washington County Sheriff's Office brought a water rescue boat.

Diego De LaTorre, 12, and his sister, Maria, 10, met Merle, the bomb-sniffing dog, and his partner, Metro Transit police officer Scott Tinucci.

Maddie Vasterling, 7, of Cottage Grove said she came to safety camp because she wanted to know what to do if there was a fire or a robbery at her house.

"On a scale of 1 to 10, a nine," she said, when asked to rate the camp.

William Loeffler

William Loeffler is a playwright and journalist from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He worked 15 years writing features for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He has also written travel stories based on his trips to all seven continents. He and his wife, Michelle, ran the Boston Marathon in 2009. 

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