POMEROY — The building once known for housing and selling luxury cars has now fallen silent, save for twice a month when it’s filled with the sound of sniffing, barking and growling dogs.
Specifically, the former Mark Porter car dealership building in Pomeroy now serves as a facility for training German shepherds and their police trainers.
And on March 9, each dog at the facility took their turn practicing bite work and sniffing out narcotics. The groups present were the Meigs County Sheriff’s Office, Gallia County Sheriff’s Office, Hocking County, Jackson County, W.Va., Parkersburg, W.Va. police, Vienna, W.Va. police, Marietta Police Department, Zanesville Police Department and the U.S. Forestry Service.
One at a time, each K-9 unit entered either the upstairs or ground floor of the former car dealership for practice. Brandy King, of the Meigs County K-9 Unit, called to the “suspect,” Perry County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. David Briggs.
King warned him that if he didn’t come out, she would release her dog, named Baxter, who’s 6 years old and has worked alongside King since October 2013. Once Briggs refused to cooperate, away Baxter went, sniffing out and eventually biting Briggs’ “arm” and dragging him out. Each volunteer playing the suspect wore large, protective padding resembling a sumo wrestler in layered clothing. Each volunteer escaped unscathed.
Steve Heater, of Gallia County’s K-9 Unit, said that German commands are used for the dogs so that they don’t get confused.
“If I’m telling you to get down on the ground, I don’t want my dog to go down on the ground. I still want him to watch you,” he said. “So if I use the command, he’s gonna go down. This way, I don’t confuse you or the dog.”
From there, Baxter and King went to a former office area in the upstairs part of the building, where Baxter trained by sniffing for narcotics. Once he had located each one, he was thrown a toy to make him believe that he’d, indeed, found the drugs he was sent to discover. However, that doesn’t mean that there weren’t actual drugs in the office space for him to discover.
Heater said that during the narcotics training, the drugs present in the room for Baxter and the other dogs to find were marijuana, heroin, cocaine and meth. Earlier in the day, some of the dogs also sniffed lockers at Gallia Academy High School and the local work release center.
This type of training takes place 16 hours each month, or eight hours every two weeks, as required by Ohio law. Along with narcotics training and bite work, dogs practice tracking, general building searches, article searches and aggression, among others types of training. But for King, one of the toughest challenges was — and still remains — to become as in-sync with Baxter as possible as the two have gotten to know one another.
“There’s stuff you don’t even realize you’re doing, there’s always something (new) every day,” she said. “Learning to read him was my biggest thing.”
Baxter is with King during every shift, and he comes home with her as well. However, his original origin, along with the origin of every German shepherd present during Wednesday’s training, was not Meigs County.
“They usually come from Europe when they’re 1 to 2 years old,” Heater said. “(Europeans) breed their dogs to work; we breed our dogs to lay around and do nothing.”
From the time they arrive in the United States, Heater trains with dogs for six weeks, teaching the dog what he wants each canine to know, including some of the bite work and drug odors, which they learn by playing with toys that smell like different drugs.
Then, another six weeks of training takes place with the handler and the dog. Ohio has a required test that the duo must take, and from there they are ready to get to work to clean up and keep Ohio and West Virginia safe.
“We do our best with what we can do in a shift to try to get some drugs off the streets,” King said.
Lindsay Kriz is a former staff writer for Ohio Valley Publishing.