A man and his dog — a dynamic duo, a force not to be reckoned with, and, in the case of Don Kelley and bloodhound partner Raisy, a crime-fighting team.

Don Kelley, with the West Virginia Division of Forestry, and Raisy were recently named 2016/2017 K-9 Team of the Year. 

Nominated by Sgt. Randy White of the Raleigh County Sheriff’s Office and a previous winner of the same award, Kelley and Raisy were honored during the West Virginia Police Canine Association’s annual training/certification conference. State police and K-9 teams from city and county agencies from throughout the state attended the conference in Barboursville for training and recertification of their K-9 teams.

“Kelley has been on several successful finds and tracks,” said Sgt. White. “He does so much for the bloodhound community, and he greatly deserved this award.” 

Sgt. White said Kelley’s modesty was a big reason he got nominated. “Most people have one or two successful tracks a year,” he said. “But Kelley will sometimes have over 15 a year, and that needed recognition.”

Kelley and Raisy are part of the state Division of Forestry’s Investigative Unit. The team has been trained to sniff out clues, from tracking down arsonists to searching for lost hikers.

“Our primary job is to investigate forest fires,” said Kelley. “But law enforcement agencies in and out of the state call us often for assistance in tracking missing or wanted people.”

Kelley has teamed with Raisy on missions across the country, including California, Arizona and North Dakota.

“Both Raisy and I have worked with the U.S. Division of Forestry to track down fire starters all over the country,” said Kelley. “Bloodhounds are specifically trained to track things or people; that’s their purpose.”

Kelley said there has been a huge decline in the start of forest fires since bloodhounds became trained to track down those who started them, and he is proud of Raisy for the work she also does outside of that.

“It’s really amazing how many crimes we have solved together,” said Kelley. “Bloodhounds help lead so many investigations, and I love being able to certify and train them.”

Kelley said he helped certify 16 bloodhounds over the past year, when 23 years ago training bloodhounds to do this type of investigative work was unheard of. “That number continues to grow,” he said. “And all of that is due to the successful cases they help solve.” 

Bloodhounds are trained to sniff out clues others may not be able to notice. “Half of the time I’m sitting and wondering where am I going to go with this investigation if there are no witnesses,” said Kelley. “Well, when I run the dog, she will take me away from here, whether it be someone’s house or vehicle, and find out where crimes originated from.” 

“Running the dog” refers to the sniffing out of clues, Kelley said. “We use long leads so they are far enough away from us and can take us where we need to go.” 

“She’s always telling me something,” Kelley said in reference to Raisy. “Whether it be that we’re off the track or on the right track, she always knows what she’s doing.”

The forestry division receives the bloodhounds when they are 8 weeks old and begins training them right from the start. 

“It’s easier to train the dog than it is to train a handler,” said Kelley. “I can honestly say anytime the dog has screwed up, it has been my fault. I have either second guessed her or misread her.”

Kelley said it is important to trust the dogs and take them seriously. “There is no time to screw around,” he said. “Trust the dog’s instincts.

“One of the most rewarding things for me is seeing other guys dedicated to training the bloodhounds to solve cases,” said Kelley. “With all the training we do, I have all the confidence in the world in calling one of my other team members in a different county and giving him a case if he’s closer to the situation.”

As rewarding as it may be, working with the bloodhounds can often be emotional for their handlers. 

“You never know what kind of case you will be involved in,” said Kelley. “Solving a case with your dog can be the best day of your life, but can also often be the worst.”

Recalling a past case with Raisy, Kelley said finding a body, especially the one of someone you know, is hard. “You don’t know what you’re going to get into,” he said. “You have to keep your emotions in check.”

Raisy, who is constantly on the job, lives a busy life. “Any kind of police dog doesn’t live a normal life,” said Kelley. “Raisy will often have to spend hours on a car ride, and even though she’s used to it, the physical aspect of it is still hard.”

Once the bloodhounds retire, they have a difficult time letting the life of work go. “It’s what they were made to do,” said Kelley. “But any bloodhound I have had gets used to the life and doesn’t want it to come to an end.”

Kelley said he has loved every bloodhound partner he has had, but he often has to remind himself they are a tool and they have a specific job to do.  

“The whole job is rewarding,” he said. “I wake up every day loving what I do, and I am grateful for all the agencies I have relationships with.” 

Kelley said although he and Raisy were named Team of the Year, he continues to do his job because of the importance it has on people’s lives. 

Raisy, who lives with Kelley, belongs to the state. Once she retires, she will be handed over to Kelley completely. 

“These dogs do great work,” Kelley said. “They are the ones who deserve all the recognition, and I would never be able to do this without them.”

— Email: jnelson@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @jnelsonRH

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