Bluefield Daily Telegraph
They’re fast, strong, skillful and intimidating. Just the threat to unleash them is often enough to make a suspect choose surrender instead of fight or flight.
Two German Shepherds and a bloodhound serve with their handlers at the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department. All three deputies recently brought their K-9 partners to the Mercer County Courthouse to talk about the work they do for the community.
Deputy W.E. Rose is partnered with Midas, a German Shepherd he has worked with for about four years. The department acquired Midas from M.V. Moore, a retired state trooper in Richmond, Va. who breeds and raises dogs.
“Basically, every dog stays with the handler,” Rose said. “ They stay at their house. That’s who feeds them, that’s who takes care of them. They are the only ones who can control them, pretty much.”
Midas and other dogs trained like him will take commands only from their handlers.
“If one of the other guys tell my dog to do something, he’s not going to listen to them,” Rose explained. “You have to be the alpha dog. Whenever I’m telling my dog to do something, and he doesn’t think I’m the alpha dog, he’s going to challenge me about what he’s supposed to do.”
Midas recently demonstrated his skill when deputies answered a call on Wright’s Mountain near Rock. A property owner encountered two men leaving his property with scrap metal and other items allegedly stolen from one of his buildings. When one man kept acting in a threatening manner, the owner shot him in the arm. The man fled on foot and tried to hide in tall grass.
“I said come out or we would release the dog,” Rose said. “And he came out and raised one arm. He couldn’t raise the other arm. He gave up. A lot of times, just the sight of the dog will make people give up when they normally would try to fight.”
Deputy E.P. Parks has his own K-9 partner, a German Shepherd named Arrow. Donated by a breeder in Mud Fork, Arrow is trained to be a narcotic and patrol dog. When asked if there was an instance that really demonstrated Arrow’s skills, Parks thought for a moment and remembered a time when Arrow found drug cash.
“I’d say the most significant one was the traffic stop I did in 2008. The driver was wanted for delivery of cocaine. We did an exterior sniff of the vehicle in which Arrow did an indication on the trunk, and ended up seizing $28,000 in cash,” Parks recalled.
Narcotics dogs indicate the smell of drugs by scratching at the spot outside the vehicle and barking.
“Our dogs are aggressive indicators,” Parks said. “If they smell the odor of a narcotic, they will actively indicate – scratch, bite, bark.”
Rose, who is also a master trainer, said every dog does his or her OPR, or obvious physical reaction, differently. When the dog finds the narcotic scent, they expect to get their reward – a chance to play with a tennis ball.
“When they’re scratching, they’re trying to get their toy. We’re looking for drugs. They’re looking for their toy,” Rose said.
When Midas and Arrow are ordered to chase a suspect, they make a maximum effort. Things that would make a human pause do not deter them.
“There’s no perception of fear,” Parks said of Arrow.
“He doesn’t care,” Rose said of his dog. “He’ll bite anybody. He’s not prejudiced. He just does what he does. He’s not afraid of a gun. He’s not afraid of a knife. When we tell them to go, they go. It doesn’t matter if they’re young kids or old people. It doesn’t matter to him. He sees everyone as a threat.”
A dog’s handler sets the limitations of a dog trained for law enforcement. Officers typically do not allow people to pet their dogs because there is always the chance the dog might perceive a threat.
A third dog working for the sheriff’s department has a different job and different training. Deputy D.A. Furches is partnered with Maggie the bloodhound. Maggie was acquired from a Fayette County deputy who had bred his dog.
“I got her when she was 10 or 12 weeks old. She was just a thing with fur and ears,” Furches said. “She’s trained in tracking and she has just three commands – find them, leave them alone and work. She doesn’t obey me. She just gets us where we need to be.”
The mountains and forests of Mercer County make Maggie’s powerful sense of smell especially valuable. She has tracked burglary suspects successfully, and she could also track people such as lost children or Alzheimer’s patients. Maggie does not sniff out drugs. She is a people finder, Furches said.
Maggie’s constant training helps her focus on a particular scent without being sidetracked by the odors of other dogs and wildlife.
“Typically, I try to mark my trail on the training tracks,” Furches said. This helps him recognize when Maggie is being distracted by a different scent, and lets him get her back to the task at hand.
Arrow and Midas get a chance to play with their toys when they are successful, but Maggie gets a different reward for successfully tracking down a person.
“I give her food,” Furches said with a smile. “She gets Vienna Sausages. She’s scent discriminating. Give her one person’s scent and that’s the one person she goes to.”
Rose said the department has been able to keep three K-9 dogs thanks to the support of Sheriff Don Meadows.