The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 19, 2013

K-9 makes for rewarding year

By Brandi Underwood
Register-Herald Reporter

BECKLEY — With one year with his new partner in the books, Cpl. Jamie Bloom of the Beckley Police Department said that it’s been his most rewarding year in his 12-year law enforcement career thus far.

He gives the credit to his sidekick and K-9 companion Ciro, a two-year-old full-blooded German shepherd that hits the streets with him each night in the patrol car.

Tasked as part of the department’s narcotics unit, Bloom explained that Ciro hails from Eastern Europe — Slovakia, to be specific — and each of his commands are given in the Czech language. Ciro is certified on both the national and state level by the North American Police Work Dog Association and the West Virginia Police Canine Association, respectively.

Beyond the usual drug dog skills of sniffing out marijuana, cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine, Ciro is also trained in tracking and suspect apprehension.

A little more than a year ago, Blume traveled to Pennsylvania to complete a two-month-long K-9 program at nationally-renowned Shallow Creek Kennels. Until that point, he had no experience working as a K-9 officer, but jumped at the opportunity when it arose.  

“The staff there did several months of work with him, working on imprinting and creating the connection between his mind and nose to locate drugs,” Blume explained. “They also worked on his obedience, tracking and apprehension skills.”

“When I went to the school, they were mainly just working with me to bring me up to the dog’s level,” Blume explained.

He and Ciro worked together for those two months to establish a rapport as partners before Ciro was transported back to Beckley at the program’s completion.

That’s when the real work began.

In addition to their normal patrol work, Blume explained that he and Ciro often work alongside the department’s special enforcement unit.

“They’re basically our proactive street-level unit,” Blume explained. “There’s out there making the traffic stops and looking for drugs, guns and fugitives.”

As part of the night shift, Blume and Ciro often get calls from agencies all over the county needing Ciro’s skills to help with tracking or clearing buildings.

“We’ve gone as far as Mercer County before,” Blume said. “Pretty much anywhere we’re needed, we’ll go.”

Blume explained that dogs can often clear buildings and locate evidence in a fraction of the time it would officers, therefore drastically increasing manpower and making their job a bit easier.

With three dogs in the department, including Artie, a bloodhound handled by Jonathan Legursky, and Helo handled by Cpl. Will Reynolds, Blume said that he wishes that even more officers could have a K-9 sidekick.

“Dogs are crucial to the way we fight the drug epidemic,” Blume said.

But beyond that, the dogs are also instrumental in tracking and apprehension.

“I can think of at least three occasions this year that our dogs have tracked and gotten the bad guy,” Blume said. “If we wouldn’t have used the dog to track, we wouldn’t have been able to make those arrests.”

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While Ciro’s foreign pedigree came with a hefty price tag of $12,000, it’s safe to say he’s been well worth his weight in salt in the year he’s been with the force.  

“In not even a year, Ciro has more than paid for himself just in drug and cash seizures,” Blume said. “We’ve seized tens of thousand of dollars this year in drug busts that he’s been responsible for.”  

Those seizures can all be attributed to Ciro’s acute sense of smell that drug dogs are bred for.

“A human looks at a pot of stew and we just smell stew,” Blume said. “A dog can not only smell the stew, but he will smell the meat, the potatoes, the carrots and every individual ingredient.”

Oftentimes people try to mask the smell of drugs with other items to confuse the dog, but Blume said those attempts are futile.

“If he walks around a vehicle and someone had wrapped a pound of marijuana in foil, mustard and dryer sheets in order to throw off the smell, it really isn’t working,” Blume explained, adding that the dog still picks up on the marijuana, he just smells the foil, mustard and dryer sheets, too.”  

When not on the clock, Blume said that Ciro enjoys his down time just like anyone else.

“He loves to run in the backyard. He’s a normal dog when he’s home, but as soon as he sees me getting into my uniform, he starts getting excited,” Blume said.  

“If my lights and siren come on in the cruiser, he starts barking and pacing in the back of the car. “Little things like that key the dog up.”

Blume explained that Ciro’s extremely high energy level is what they look for in a good drug dog.

“In their mind, they don’t know what cocaine is. They don’t know what marijuana is. They’re just looking for their toy,” Blume explained.

“They’re constantly looking for it, and they aren’t going to give up until they find it. That’s what makes them good drug dogs.”

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With the growing drug problem in the area, Blume and Ciro’s job is becoming more and more important each day.

“We obviously do have a drug problem in the city. Our narcotics unit just got about 20 pounds out of a house a couple weeks ago. We have overdose deaths all over the city. It’s becoming more and more of a problem.”

Blume said that he and Ciro haven’t found their motherload yet, but they’re confident it’s coming.

Instead, Blume explained that most of their weight comes taking traffic stops to a new level, constantly working to get the bigger fish after smaller drug seizures.

“It’s been more of an ounce of cocaine here and a half-pound of marijuana there. But it’s been consistent,” Blume said.

At the end of the day, Blume said that having a K-9 companion makes his job feel more like fun than work.

“I love it. I’ve done almost everything there is to do in the law enforcement field, and being a K-9 officer is by far the most rewarding for me. It keeps me excited about my job and keeps me motivated. I’ll have a dog as long as they let me.”

— E-mail: bunderwood@register-herald.com