Dog training hearing Monday in Courtland

Published 11:50 am Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Labrador retriever is rewarded with a toy after finding a simulated explosive device during a military dog training demonstration at American K9 Interdiction on Thursday. -- GWEN ALBERS | TIDEWATER NEWS

WALTERS—The way Jill Vargo sees it, combining propane and oxygen to simulate the sounds of gunfire is the same thing farmers use to chase deer from their peanut fields.

“They have been using them forever. No one ever complained about that,” Vargo said during a Thursday dog training demonstration at American K9 Interdiction, which would be similar to what the Walters company wants to do in Southampton County.

A neighbor of the military dog training company, Vargo was among 40 to attend the public demonstration, which involved using two Labrador retrievers to detect simulated explosives used in warfare. To demonstrate, simulated gunfire and mortars were set off using propane and oxygen.

The Southampton County Board of Zoning Appeals during a 7:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 19, public hearing will be asked to grant permission for training the dogs on a Crossroads Drive property near Franklin owned by Green Waste Recycling and on a 36465 General Mahone Boulevard property owned by Charles and Kathleen Clark in the Berlin-Ivor area. The hearing will be at the Southampton County Government Center in Courtland.

The company initially planned to use nine properties, but dropped five after residents complained.

Properties no longer being considered are on Melon Field and Three Bees roads in Newsoms, both owned by Denise and J.C. Bunn III. Others are on Odom Chapel Road, East Depot Street and south of General Thomas Highway west of Cypress Bridge Road, all in Newsoms, belonging to the Joan Bunn Life Estate.

Paul Roushia, co-owner of American K-9 Interdiction, told The Tidewater News during the demonstration he also withdrew his requests to use the former Boykins Elementary School at 17219 Pittman Road and the former Ivor Elementary School at 7486 Proctor’s Bridge Road. The county owns both.

Roushia said the properties are in bad shape and could be dangerous.

Nigel Rhodes, co-owner and chief executive officer for American K9, spoke about the economic benefits of having the training here.

“Last year, we got a contract from the UK Army to train dogs and handlers,” Rhodes said. “We will have 70 handlers for four weeks and dogs. If we had those areas (in Southampton County), we would’ve been at this facility. That would’ve been an enormous impact.”

Instead, they are using their facility in South Carolina.

Glenn Updike was among members of the Board of Zoning Appeals to attend the demonstration. Updike said he would have to wait for residents’ reactions during Monday’s hearing to make a decision.

“You have to take into consideration the people living next door,” Updike said. “When you invade their territory and their way of living, their quality of living, the value or their property, this would be a big burden on these individuals.”

“I don’t think the county has the right to do that,” he continued. “I told them (American K9) yesterday, if they would go and visit with those surrounding people and talk to them and get their consent, I would vote for them in a heartbeat.”

More than 100 attended a standing-room-only public hearing on Aug. 15 before the Board of Zoning Appeals. American K-9 was seeking special permission to do the training on the nine properties.

The hearing was postponed when the seven-member board did not have a quorum — a majority of its members present for making a decision.

In the application filed with the county, American K-9 Interdiction explained that Labrador retrievers are used for detecting explosives and other security purposes. Operating in Isle of Wight County since 2008, the company would train at different locations every day, but it would not occur at the same location day after day.

The hours will generally be from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Each training group is comprised of trainers and about 15 dogs. It is possible that as many as two training groups might be at any one location on any one day.

Typically, trainers set up a situation and engage one dog in training at a time. The training activity involves the detection of different types of explosives.

Small quantities of explosives are hidden on the property, and the dogs are trained to detect the explosives. The explosives are inert and never detonated.

During training for the detection of explosives, dogs are sometimes subjected to simulated gunfire to condition them to the sounds they might hear in a real-life situation in the combat field.