Honoring law enforcement’s K-9 officers

OAK HILL — In July 2016, Oak Hill City Council voted to create a dog park on Central Avenue.

Soon after that, the group Destination: Downtown Oak Hill decided to begin raising funds for a memorial to be placed in the dog park, a memorial to the county’s fallen K-9 officers.

The process of fundraising efforts, finding the right artist, considering designs and the artist’s actual creation of the statue will come to fruition Sunday with the statue’s dedication and unveiling at the Doctor Hamilton Dog Park.

Artist Jamie Lester of Vandalia Bronze, a southern West Virginia native known for his bronzes of famous West Virginians such as Jerry West, “Hot Rod” Hundley and Don Knotts, as well as for being the creator of the design chosen to appear on the West Virginia state quarter, was selected to create the K-9 statue.

A four-foot bronze of a German shepherd with a police badge similar to the badges of the Oak Hill Police Department will be unveiled in a ceremony beginning Sunday at 2 p.m.

“I have been told the statue looks awesome,” City Manager Bill Hannabass said when announcing the ceremony.

Fayette County Sheriff Michael Fridley knows the value of K-9 officers as a former handler and as the county’s lead law enforcement officer.

“With a department my size, a K-9 officer can do the work of five deputies (in searching),” he said. “The dogs can track. They can sniff out things that a person can’t. If it’s a big building (that needs cleared), they can clear it way faster. Their noses are so keen.”

He pointed out that the police dogs serve many purposes, ranging from locating lost children and elders to sniffing out drugs and explosives.

The FCSD currently has five K-9 deputies: one bomb dog, two bloodhounds and two narcotics dogs.

“The work that they can do is second to none. They help us fight in the battle against illegal drugs. Without them, we’d be lost,” he said.

“We are blessed to have five of them, so much work can be done.”

Fridley himself served with a K-9 partner, Niko, earlier in his career. He knows first-hand the bond that develops between the partners.

“We spend more time with them than we do with our families. It’s just a special bond. You spend all day in the car and working with them, and then they go home with you at night.

“I’m an animal lover anyway and you just get a real special bond with them.”

Fridley and his department will be fully represented by the K-9 teams at the Sunday ceremony.

Mayor Daniel E. Wright will welcome those gathered for the ceremony, followed by an invocation by Rev. Michael Hicks, pastor of the Jones Avenue Church of God.

Hannabass will then make introductions and acknowledgements of various individuals and groups, including Destination: Downtown Oak Hill, the sculptor and others.

Sgt. Chris Young of the Oak Hill Police Department next will recognize the county’s fallen K-9 officers and their partners.

Those who have served the people of Fayette County include K-9 Kiwi and K-9 Jake, both handled by Charles Bryant of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department; K-9 Enno, handler John Kauff, FCSD; K-9 Niko, handler Sheriff Michael Fridley, FCSD; K-9 Sampson and K-9 Riko, handler Nick Mooney, FSCD; K-9 Herk, handler Shannon Morris, FCSD; K-9 Wilbur, handlers William Willis and Jess McMullen, FCSD; K-9 Zeus, handler Steve Neal, FCSD; K-9 Marco, handler Chris Young, Oak Hill Police Department; K-9 Nero, handler Greg Harding, OHPD; K-9 Neko, handler Les Foster, Mount Hope Police Department; K-9 Montana and K-9 Narco, handler David Kinzer, Fayetteville Police Department.

Active K-9 officers and their handlers to be recognized are K-9 Petro, handler Josh Jones, OHPD; K-9 Arras, handler Nick Mooney, FCSD; K-9 Dixie, handler Shannon Morris, FCSD; K-9 Evo, handler Steve Neal, FCSD; K-9 Pappy, handler Jess McMullen, FCSD; K-9 Java, handler Korey Spears, FCSD; and K-9 Boss (retired), handler William Callison, FCSD.

Following the introduction of the K-9 officers and the recognition of those fallen officers, Hannabass will recognize the donors to the project, including Kay Ballard, the Bank of Mount Hope, Premier Financial, the Oak Hill Animal Hospital, Linda Morrison, Larry Richmond, Richard Martin, John and Debra Garvin and Jim, Brett, Mike and Matt Lively.

Following the recognition, Lester will unveil the statue and Chief Mike Whisman of the Oak Hill Police Department will make closing remarks.

Email: ckeenan@register-herald.com; follow on Twitter @Fayette_Cheryl