WHEELING - Onlookers who have seen the Wheeling Police Department's new explosive detection dog sniffing around public buses in the downtown area may have been temporarily caught off guard.
However, Officer Garrett Pugh said it is just all part of being "proactive" in the post 9-11 era.
The dog, Declan, is one of five K-9 unit dogs working with the police department, but the only one specifically trained to smell for explosives, including gun powder. Training on public buses and other local infrastructure is part of Declan's ongoing training said Pugh, who plans to practice and patrol with his newest partner at places such as the Pike Island Locks and Dam, the Wheeling-Ohio County Airport, WesBanco Arena and the Capitol Theatre.
Photos by Scott McCloskey
Wheeling Police Department K-9 Handler Officer Garrett Pugh exits a public bus in downtown Wheeling with the department’s new explosive detection dog, “Declan,” during training exercises.
"If we ever have dignitaries fly into the airport, I need to be familiar with what I need to check up there," Pugh said.
Pugh said he plans to patrol at events in Wheeling where there are large gatherings of people, such as the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic Run and Walk, the Independence Day celebration and the Upper Ohio Valley Italian Heritage Festival.
While Declan is trained primarily as the department's explosive detection dog, he is a dual purpose detail dog and can do building and article searches as well as assist with tracking and apprehensions.
Pugh said Declan could assist in a search by smelling an article of clothing before tracking a person. While Declan assists the department in many capacities, he is not trained to detect narcotics like the other dogs at the department.
Formerly a patrol officer with the department, Pugh said he went through an interview process last year before being selected as the department's newest K-9 officer. He said he spent more than a month training with Declan in Charleston before working with him in Wheeling. While he is required to attend three training sessions a month with other K-9 units at different locations, the training around the city is all extra time he puts in with Declan.
"I have a kennel in my basement. That's where he stays ... I take care of him," Pugh said. "When we go to other towns with other people and dogs, it's a little more difficult because he is not familiar with the area we're in."
Pugh said recent events related to terrorism spurred the department's decision to have a unit like Declan.
"I think the straw that broke the camel's back was the Boston Marathon bombing and the fact that we have multiple-sized races here," Pugh said.
Declan has responded to two dozen calls in just a few months, including a shooting on Wheeling Island and following the shooting outside the Federal Building. He was used to help secure shooter Thomas Piccard's residence in Bridgeport following the event. He also can be used during traffic stops and instances of potential school violence, Pugh said.
Wheeling Police Chief Shawn Schwertfeger said having a bomb dog saves critical time when dealing with potential explosives. When the department was called to the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Wheeling in October for a suspicious package, Schwertfeger called on Declan and Pugh to defuse the situation in nearly 30 minutes. He said without Declan's assistance, the department would have been forced to shut down the parking garage for at least several hours while waiting for a response team from another larger city.
Meanwhile, Pugh said Declan provides him with more than additional manpower.
"He serves as my backup," Pugh said. "He will protect me."