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Police dog is expert bomb detector

by James Fisher

STAFF WRITER

WESTON -- The newest addition to the Weston Police Department is already getting a reputation across the state.

When McDowell County police needed help late last year, they called Rocky. When the Ku Klux Klan rallied in Clarksburg in November, Rocky was summoned.

His services were even offered to the Shepherdstown Police Department when world leaders convened there for a summit.

But Rocky is not some monstrous, hulking Supercop with an attitude.

He's short and very friendly. And he's one of the best bomb-sniffing dogs in the country, according to his handler, Weston Police Officer Brian Kunkel.

Kunkel is not just a proud dog-handler, though. He has experience with Rocky, a 3-year-old Belgian Malinois, that backs up his claim to greatness.

"Our first time out on a live situation, we were searching a school," Kunkel recalled. "We didn't find anything for about half an hour and then we were told to go check a bathroom."

Rocky immediately "hit" on a trash can in the bathroom, Kunkel said.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "I pulled him off and walked around the bathroom and when he came to that trash can he sat down again."

Kunkel said he became concerned because Rocky's reaction meant that there was possibly some type of explosive present.

After the trash can was searched, no explosives were found but Rocky's reputation was well on its way.

"One of the detectives had thrown away the disposable cartridge from a Polaroid camera," Kunkel said.

"It had traces of nitrate from the film and that's what Rocky hit on. When I called Polaroid, I found out that there is so little nitrate there that there's only a handful of dogs in the country that would have hit on it."

Aside from being one of the best, Rocky is also one of just two bomb dogs in the state. While having something as extravagant as a bomb dog would not seem necessary for a department of just seven officers, Kunkel said Weston's location made it the perfect choice for Rocky's home base.

"We're pretty much in the center of the state," he said. "We're very mobile and we can respond anywhere very quickly."

Kunkel began researching early last year how to obtain funding for a bomb dog.

"We thought that because of the frequency of incidents, we would do some checking," he said. "I found out that at the time there was only one bomb dog in the state, down in Kanawha County."

According to Kunkel's grant proposal, between July 1997-1998, there were 107 bomb-related incidents in the state. Of those, 23 were recorded in North Central West Virginia. As-yet-incomplete statistics show that those numbers are expected to be double for July 1998-1999.

"We had six bomb incidents here within a two week period in April," Kunkel said. "We figured that if no one else was going to take the initiative, we would. We're trying to make the department more dynamic and progressive and this is a good way."

Although Kunkel is very happy with Rocky's performance so far, he almost didn't come to Weston.

"We were actually securing funds for another dog but the funds kept dragging and they ended up training and selling our dog," Kunkel said. "The kennel had Rocky, which they said was their best dog and even though they really didn't want to get rid of him, we got him."

Rocky was trained by Augusta K-9 Services in Rocky Gap, Va., the same outfit that trained the department's black Labrador retriever drug dog, Alex, and Kunkel's patrol dog, a German shepherd named Hunter.

Rocky has already saved lives as well, Kunkel said. They were called to a school in McDowell County late last year after a bomb was found.

"They called us in to sweep the kid's house and we found parts for a total of four bombs," he said. "As far as I'm concerned, what he did in McDowell County alone paid for him. Between the fire marshal's office and Rocky, they saved many kids from injury or being killed."

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