NEWELL - They've come from as far away as Pipestem, near the southern tip of West Virginia.
K-9 units - police dogs and their handlers - from all over the state converged on Hancock County on Sunday for the start of the 20th annual West Virginia Police Canine Association training seminar.
The statewide convention is being held at Tomlinson Run State Park and sites in New Manchester and Newell, registering an estimated 67 K-9 units from Huntington, Charleston and beyond. Nearby units from East Liverpool, Weirton, New Cumberland and St. Clair Township also are taking advantage of the training.
STRETCHING THEIR LEGS — Patrolman 1st Class Jason Smith of the Huntington Police Department keeps his bloodhound, Copper, and English springer spaniel, Duke, close by on Sunday soon after arriving at the Holiday Inn Express in Newell. K-9 units from across West Virginia are in Hancock County this week for a major training seminar. -- Stephen Huba
"It's a major turnout for us. We're very happy about it," said Hancock County Sheriff's Deputy 1st Class Scott Little, supervisor of the Hancock County K-9 Unit.
"All our planning is done, so now it's time to put it into action," Little said Sunday outside the Holiday Inn Express in Newell, where most of the conference participants are staying.
The motel's parking lot filled up with police vehicles from Barboursville, Cabell County, Huntington, and Fayette County as Sunday afternoon wore on. Most of the highly trained dogs are being kept in the rooms or in portable kennels.
Cpl. Dennis Ray of the Cabell County Sheriff's Department exercised his German shepherd, Boss, soon after arriving. Three K-9 units from Cabell County will be here through the convention's conclusion on Thursday.
Ray said this is the first time he's traveled to the Northern Panhandle.
"It's a little different," he said.
Patrolman 1st Class Jason Smith of the Huntington Police Department traveled four hours to get to Newell on Sunday.
"I've been through here once before when I was on my way to Pittsburgh," he said.
Smith is here for training with his bloodhound, Copper, and his English springer spaniel, Duke. The bloodhound specializes in tracking, and the spaniel specializes in narcotics detection, he said.
The convention is necessary for K-9 units in West Virginia to be certified or get their annual recertification, Little said.
County officials also see it as an opportunity to show off Northern Panhandle hospitality and amenities.
"A conference like that is going to bring a lot of people in," said Dan Greathouse, director of the Top of West Virginia Convention & Visitors Bureau. "There's an economic impact for the restaurants, hotels and grocery stores - for things like dog food."
Greathouse said Hancock County is not inexperienced when it comes to conventions. It previously has hosted statewide meetings of county commissioners, county assessors, county clerks and tourism officials, he said.
Despite hopes for a boost to Hancock County's economy, the law enforcement officers attending the convention will be here mostly to work.
The major certification days are today and Tuesday, with training sessions scheduled for narcotics, explosives, patrol and tracking work. Five WVPCA master trainers are on hand, as are two trainers from Battle Born K9, a police dog training school based in Las Vegas, Nev.
Among the participating dogs are bloodhounds from the West Virginia Division of Forestry in Pipestem, as well as narcotics, tracking, bomb-sniffing and patrol dogs from city police departments and county sheriff's departments across the state, Little said.
Although most of the seminar will be held at Tomlinson Run State Park, indoor training will be held at the former Jefferson Elementary School and the former C. Hackett Chrysler Dodge Jeep dealership, both in Newell.
The public will have a chance to see the dogs during a special demonstration from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Tomlinson Run. The demonstration will include narcotics, apprehension and vehicle extraction scenarios, Little said.
Visitors are asked not to bring their own dogs and are encouraged to park at the Tomlinson Run mini-golf course. Shuttle service to the demonstration site near the park swimming pool will be provided.
(Huba can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)