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When the going gets tough, bring in the bomb dog

haywoodA new K9 skilled in bomb and explosive detection will soon be joining the ranks of the Waynesville Police Department.

The need for a bomb-sniffing K9 became evident following a threat at Tuscola High School in April that forced a rapid evacuation of campus. Officers faced the daunting job of searching hundreds of lockers and book bags left behind in classrooms when students fled.

It would have taken all day and night if not for a team of bomb-sniffing K9s from the Asheville Police Department and Buncombe Sheriff’s Office showing up to help.

In John Henry-esque fashion, the men were no match.

“A dog can do what it took 12 officers to do in about a third of the time,” Haywood Sheriff Greg Christopher said.

Dogs are also more reliable.

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“A human may miss an explosives device, but an explosives detection dog isn’t going to miss it,” Waynesville Police Chief Bill Hollingsed said. “The dog will detect it no matter what, if it is hidden in a Coke bottle or gym shoe. A human has to visually see that.”

And it is safer than exposing officers to possible explosives in a hand search.

“If a dog alerts on a locker, you move everybody back and call in a bomb squad and they go to work,” Hollingsed said.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

Waynesville used to have a bomb dog, but it retired last year. And that’s when Murphy’s Law kicked in. Tuscola had three bomb threats in a six-month period. Hollingsed and Christopher realized they needed a bomb dog once again.

“Unfortunately we have needed one a few times in this past year,” Christopher said. 

Emergencies like school bomb threats aren’t the only time a bomb K9 would be pressed into service, however. A bomb dog can sweep the stadium of a home football game before crowds arrive — a precaution that simply wouldn’t be possible using manpower.

“Once we have a bomb dog, we could use it any time we have an event of magnitude with a large number of people,” Christopher said.

“We aren’t going to take safety for granted. If you can do a quick sweep, to us, it is well worth it,” Hollingsed added.

The dog will round out Waynesville’s existing K9 force of four drug dogs, which can also track and capture suspects. While the dog will be on Waynesville’s payroll — from dog food to training to a handler — it will be an asset countywide.

Hollingsed asked other law enforcement agencies to pitch in and cover the upfront cost to buy the dog — which will run around $9,000.

So far, Clyde kicked in $1,250, Canton $2,500 and Haywood County $2,250. A grant of $1,800 has come in from the Gold Wing Road Riders Association - Waynesville Chapter NC-G2, leaving only $1,300 to go. Maggie Valley hasn’t definitively said whether or how much it might contribute.

Canton Town Manager Seth Hendler-Voss said the town sees the bomb dog as an investment in public safety and emergency response.

“The recent bomb scare at Tuscola High School this spring gave our entire community pause,” Hendler-Voss said, citing the four public schools in Canton’s town limits. “We do not want to find ourselves unprepared to deal with threats expeditiously, especially when it comes to children.”

In the absence of a bomb dog of their own, law enforcement officers in Haywood have had to turn to neighboring counties for assistance.

In June, Hollingsed called on Asheville’s bomb dog to sweep the Haywood County courthouse before a U.S. Congressional field hearing attended by Congressmen. 

And also last month, Christopher twice asked Macon to bring its bomb dog over to sweep the WCU Ramsey Center in advance of the Tuscola and Pisgah high school graduation ceremonies.

But there are only three bomb dogs in a nine-county region now. While they’re willing to help, it takes time to round one up, and is contingent on the dog and handler being available. 

“We are thankful to have that partnership,” Christopher said. “But we are always at the mercy of someone else’s schedule. When we need this dog, normally, we need it immediately.”

Haywood Commissioner Chairman Mark Swanger agreed.

“Having a local dog I think is a very good idea,” Swanger said.

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