CAVE SPING – Cave Spring resident Wesley Campbell is in the business of catching bad guys, and he does that with the help of his police dog, Alto.
Alto and Campbell are one of the teams on the Roanoke County Police K-9 Unit. Alto is a Belgian Malinois, a breed similar in looks to German Shepherds, but which is in fact smaller in build.
Alto is trained to detect explosives. He can sniff out black powder, smokeless powder, TNT, dynamite, C4, ANFO, and virtually any other component used to make explosives, in the military and in private. Alto is also able to sniff out firearms. Alto was trained by U.S. Customs in the detection of explosives.
Alto and Campbell work all of the bomb threats in the area. Last week the team searched Eagle Rock Elementary School in Botetourt County after receiving threats there. The two additionally perform stadium searches for Virginia Tech’s home football games.
“We also search for big events, such as when Obama or Palin came through last year prior to the election,” Campbell said. “We are available should any dignitaries visit as well.”
After leaving the United States Marine Corps, Campbell had trouble re-adjusting to civilian life. He became a police officer not just to help people, but also because he missed the discipline which he learned as a Marine.
“I found it difficult to work a ‘regular job’ and attend classes as a student. I missed the structure and discipline,” Campbell said. “I found that police work could fill that void, providing a sense of fulfillment and duty, along with a proud sense of responsibility.”
Campbell joined the K9 Unit in 2005, which is the same year Alto joined the police force. Campbell was a dog lover, and wanted to try his hand at working with a police dog. The two had to attend school for six weeks in the summer of 2005.
“I had always been interested in the work that officers do with their dogs, and have always had a love for dogs as well,” Campbell said. The decision changed his life. Campbell and Alto are now very bonded to each other, and Alto has developed a relationship with Campbell’s family as well.
“Alto stays with me and my family at our home. He is great with my wife and kids, but wary of any strangers,” Campbell said. “He is pretty protective over me and he does not like anyone being around ‘his’ vehicle when we go to work.”
Campbell has found that training Alto is harder than he expected. K9 teams have two days per month which they must use for training, but Campbell finds it beneficial to train every day.
“I try to run exercises daily, in order to keep him [alert],” Campbell said.
Along with the other two K9 units in the Roanoke County Police Department, Campbell and Alto also participate in occasional demonstrations for schools, church groups, civic organizations, and other events and activities.