Meet the Malibu Sector K-9 Team: Miro and Ranger Martin Gilbertson

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Miro demonstrates how he  takes down the “bad guy,” played by Christian Winter wearing a padded suit, at last Saturday’s program at Point Mugu State Park. 

Most Malibu residents are probably unaware that California State Parks has a K-9 team assigned to patrol the beaches and trails of its Malibu sector. In fact, the team, which consists of three-year old German Shephard “Miro” and Ranger Martin Gilbertson, was brought in on the morning of the recent murder at Malibu Creek State Park to help investigate and got straight to work. 

Unfortunately, Gilbertson said by the time he and Miro got to the park, so many members of the fire department and other agencies had already been through the crime scene, that the dog was unable to pick up the shooter’s specific scent. However, the K-9 team was able to clear the area and ascertain that no shooter was still in the vicinity. 

Last Saturday, at a free outdoor event organized by Julie Tapie, head of the Santa Monica Mountains Natural History Association, nearly 100 people (mostly children and their parents) gathered in Point Mugu State Park to hear Ranger Gilbertson talk about the K-9 program and watch a demonstration of how 106-pound Miro can take down a bad guy and respond to commands.

Gilbertson has been with State Parks for 11 years—all of that time in the Malibu sector. Although he applied to become a K-9 handler some time ago, it took until 2016 before a dog was approved in the budget after the Malibu area’s previous K-9 retired in 2010. 

At that time, Gilbertson and other new K-9 handlers went to the Bay Area to meet a newly arrived contingent of trained one-year-old German Shepherds from the Czech Republic. 

“Each of us was able to pick the dog we wanted,” Gilbertson said. “Each dog was in a crate, and they were let out one at a time and put through their paces.” 

Gilbertson chose Miro because “he was very watchful and curious, and not timid. His obedience work and his protection work were spot-on.” 

Gilbertson said in the two years since they’ve worked as a team, Miro “has earned a reputation as one of the better dogs” in the State Parks K-9 program, which currently has 16 dogs statewide. 

“His protection drives and his prey drive make it very easy for me as a handler,” the ranger described. “He’s not afraid of stairs or dark areas. Nothing stops him or scares him—he handles anything we challenge him with.”

After choosing Miro, the two were required to go through a month-long course in the Bay Area, with classes from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day. They even had to stay in the hotel together. It was a real bonding experience. The verbal commands that Gilbertson learned to use with Miro are all in a foreign language, and he’s not allowed to reveal what they are. 

Since the initial handler training, Miro has also gone through cross-training in narcotics and drug detection and tracking. All State Parks dogs are cross-trained, and some of the other dogs receive bomb training. 

“He is first and foremost a protection for me, my co-workers and the public,” Gilbertson said. “He’s a force multiplier, a tracker and a drug detector. He can search an area, a vehicle or a building.”

The California State Parks Canine Foundation website says state parks has used dogs since 1969, and that “Over the years, State Park K9 teams have apprehended armed robbery, burglary and rape suspects as well as tracking and finding lost and injured members of the public.”

The K-9 handlers and their dogs are together 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Gilbertson takes Miro home to his wife and family every day after work. 

“Miro is tough on duty, but at home he’s very loving, and he even loves the family cat,” he said. “Off duty, he enjoys playing tug-of-war and keep-away, and taking all the toys out of his toy box.”

The dogs work for as many years as they are physically able—typically until they’re seven to 10 years old—and are then “retired.” The state declares them as surplus, and sells them for one dollar. Gilbertson plans to buy Miro for a buck when the time comes. 

The event last weekend brought visitors to Pt. Mugu State Park, some of whom will likely return to visit the Sycamore Nature Center when it reopens in the fall.

Julie Tapie, head of the Santa Monica Mountains Natural History Association, has almost single-handedly turned an old adobe house on park property into a natural history museum—the Sycamore Nature Center. Filled with taxidermied animals, animal skulls and other local flora and fauna, it will be open on Saturdays after it reopens in three months. For donations or information, call 805.488.1827, ext. 106. 

To contact K-9 Miro and Gilbertson: martin.gilbertson@parks.ca.gov