Board approves military dog training

Published 10:47 am Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Southampton County Board of Zoning Appeals Chairman Peter Copeland listens to Thursday's dog training demonstration at American K9 Interdiction in Walters. On Monday, the board approved training on two Southampton County properties. GWEN ALBERS/TIDEWATER NEWS

COURTLAND—Out of work and on food stamps, David Powers was hired by American K9 Interdiction to train military dogs.

“They gave me a job and put me to work,” Powers told about 100 people attending a three-hour Monday hearing on whether to allow a Walters company to use two properties in Southampton County to train Labrador retrievers to sniff out wartime explosives.

“We don’t live in the 1920s or 1930s,” he continued. “We live in a situation now where if I’ve got someone making a little noise to protect me, let them.”

Powers’ plea was among those heard for and against the training, which the county Board of Zoning Appeals approved for both properties. The temporary special-use permit can be revoked at any time and is good for up to two years.

American K9 had initially asked to use nine properties, but withdrew five when residents opposed it. During Monday’s hearing, the company withdrew the former Boykins and Ivor elementary schools.

The board voted 6-0 to allow the training at All-American Auto, a junkyard at 36465 General Mahone Blvd. in the Berlin-Ivor area. In a second motion, the board voted 4-2 to also allow training on the 45-acre Crowder-White Excavating property at General Thomas Highway and Shady Brook Trail outside Franklin.

As a compromise, American K9 suggested using simulated gunfire from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. up to three days a week as long as the days are not consecutive or on weekends on the Crowder-White property. American K9 uses propane and oxygen to simulate the sound of an AK47 machine gun.

Supporting the measure were board members Peter Copeland, Elma Brown, Doug Chesson and David Holland. Glenn Updike and Marie Sykes dissented.

Also as part of the compromise, American K9 suggested not using simulated gunfire or mortars at the All-American Auto property. The training will involve dogs searching through the junk vehicles for explosives, said Bill Riddick, American K9’s Smithfield attorney.

“We are trying to come up with a mechanism that is acceptable to you so we inconvenience the people as little as possible,” Riddick said.

Harris Road resident James Strozier said he supports American K9’s efforts.

“I’ve offered my property and would be willing without gunfire,” said Strozier, who leases a home to trainers. “How can we turn down business? I think what these guys are doing is important to Southampton County. They will spend money and bring revenue into the county.”

Three Bees Road resident Blair Bunn opposed the training; his property is next to one of the five properties that were withdrawn. American K9 used that property for training prior to knowing it needed permission.

“To have this next to you was devastating to us,” Bunn said.

Mitchell Gray of Shady Brook Trail suggested the board accept the compromise.

“If they can compromise, it’s a good place to train dogs,” Gray said of the Crowder-White property.

Lisa Perry, director of economic development for Isle of Wight County, said training is done in the Shirley T. Holland Intermodal Park, a 1,500-acre industrial park in the Windsor area.

“We contacted adjacent property owners,” Perry said. “We didn’t have one single complaint. They are using simulated gunfire and mortars.”

Paul Roushia, co-owner of American K9, said he understands citizens’ concerns.

“We withdrew applications,” said Roushia, a former law enforcement officer. “This is the only county in the state that requires a special-use permit to train a dog. We’re not here to make enemies.”

Board of Zoning Appeals members supported the training, knowing the permit can be revoked.

“If the board grants them the opportunity to do this, it is revocable if some issue would come up,” Brown said.

Updike opposed the application for the Crowder-White property because American K9 plans to request the use of an additional 250-plus acres there. He suggested the company reapply for the entire area.

“This is still a hardship on quality of life,” Updike said. “There are a bunch of properties with large acreage and 50 homes in the surrounding area. If we do approve it, we will set a precedent.”

American K9 plans to use other Southampton County properties after receiving calls from owners offering the use of their land. The company would have to appear before the Board of Zoning Appeals for each additional property.