Former Alpine museum director honored as pioneer K-9 handler |

Former Alpine museum director honored as pioneer K-9 handler

by Karen Dustman

If you visited the Alpine Museum during the past dozen years, you probably met Dick Edwards, its garrulous and gregarious director. But even many Alpine locals never realized what a fascinating history Edwards himself brought to the position.

On Oct. 16, Edwards was honored at a special ceremony in Sacramento for his trend-setting work as the California State Parks Service’s very first K-9 dog handler.

“Back in 1969 park rangers were not armed,” Edwards recalled. “The hippies were coming in en masse, and unrest across the country was so bad that they fenced the entire Big Sur park and campgrounds, where I was stationed. There was a need for high crowd control without using guns. Trained dogs served that purpose well.”

Edwards’ K-9 companion, Sam, was trained to respond to both voice commands and special hand signals.

“With just a word, I could turn the dog ‘on’ or make him back off,” Edwards said. “Sometimes we’d run across campers doing drugs or just drinking too much. But with Sam by my side, they listened when I told them to leave. Even seven or eight rowdy campers weren’t inclined to take on a growling dog.”

For Edwards, it was just one step in a long career that ultimately spanned more than 32 years with the California State Parks Service.

“When I began as the Parks Service’s first dog handler in 1969, I was the only one doing it,” he noted. “They promised me that if I’d stick with it for three years I could have my choice of future assignments. I kept my end of the bargain. And in 1972 I was promoted to park ranger historian at La Purisima State Historic Park, a post I kept for over nine years.”

The K-9 program that Edwards pioneered at the State Parks Service today has dogs patrolling state parks across California, including Hearst’s Castle and Folsom.

As for Edwards, he remains Director Emeritus at the Alpine County Museum, where lucky visitors can still get him to spin tales from time to time about his exploits at Big Sur with K-9 companion Sam.