Hancock to host W.Va. police K-9 seminar

NEW CUMBERLAND – Man’s best friend may also end up being Hancock County’s best friend.

Hancock County will host the 2014 training seminar for the West Virginia Police Canine Association, which means as many as 75 police K-9s and their handlers will travel to West Virginia’s northernmost county in April.

While the 20th-annual state seminar is necessary for the certification and recertification of K-9s, it also will be a boon for Hancock County, Sheriff Ralph Fletcher said.

“It’s an opportunity to showcase our end of the state,” Fletcher said. “I think it’s exciting that we’re bringing people from all over the state who’ve never been to Hancock County. They’re all curious about the Northern Panhandle.”

The membership of the WVPCA voted on the seminar site at their last annual meeting, choosing Hancock County over Lewis County, said sheriff’s Deputy 1st Class Scott Little.

“They’ve been wanting us to put it on for years, but it’s such a large endeavor,” Little said. “It takes the cooperation of the administration, the (K-9) unit and the community-at-large to put it on effectively.”

Most of the training sessions will be held at Tomlinson Run State Park, with some also scheduled for the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department shooting range on Gear Road, Little said. Seminar participants will stay at the Newell Holiday Inn Express from April 14-18, he said.

Participants will include K-9 units – dog and handler – from sheriff’s departments across the state, city police departments and other law enforcement agencies, Little said. The seminar also will be open to K-9 units from Ohio and Pennsylvania, he said.

Little is one of four K-9 officers with the sheriff’s department and is handler for a German shepherd named Christina. Other K-9s in the department are Jesy, a German shepherd paired with Sgt. Chuck Stanley; Odin, a German shepherd paired with Deputy Eric Cline; and Freddie, a German shepherd assigned to Deputy Pat Hoder.

Other area law enforcement agencies with K-9 units include the Weirton Police Department, the East Liverpool Police Department, the Wellsville Police Department and the St. Clair Township Police Department.

New Cumberland police Lt. Jeremy Krzys, a K-9 officer paired with a dog named Copa, will be among the local officers participating in the training seminar.

On Tuesday, New Cumberland City Council agreed to donate $800 to the sheriff’s department’s K-9 unit to help cover the costs of the seminar. The donation came on a split vote, with Mayor Linda McNeil breaking the 3-3 tie.

Council members debated what would be considered an appropriate amount to donate. Council previously defeated by a vote of 4-3 a motion by Councilman Pat Jones to donate $200.

Councilman Shawn Marks suggested $800 because that’s how much it would cost to send Krzys to the seminar in another part of the state. Jones said that amount seemed too high.

“This is an opportunity for this area to shine,” Councilwoman Miriam Hess said, “and I think we ought to be generous and help them to shine.”

Hancock County Commissioner Dan Greathouse, who also is director of the Top of West Virginia Convention and Visitors Bureau, said such events can bring economic benefits to the area.

“Any time business comes to the community, we’re excited about that,” Greathouse said. “It fills up our hotels, our restaurants. People spend money. It’s good for the community.”

The seminar will help West Virginia K-9 units achieve certification in such areas as tracking dog, patrol dog, narcotics detector dog, explosive detector dog and trailing dog.

“A lot of good, extra training comes out of it,” Fletcher said. “There’ll be experts in the field who will help put this on and help judge the dogs. … These people are here to work, and the dogs are here to work.”

Even so, parts of the seminar will be open to the public, Little said.

Most of the costs associated with the seminar have to do with the catered daily lunches and the closing banquet on Thursday, Little said. The K-9 unit is holding fundraisers and accepting donations.

Donation checks may be made out to the Hancock County K-9 Unit and sent to the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, 102 N. Court St., New Cumberland, WV 26047.

(Huba can be contacted at shuba@reviewonline.com)