By Nicholas Vandeloecht, Staff Writer
The two are unmistakable to anyone they see in the county. While they greet frightened children with warmth and affection, no one who knows them wants to end up their bad sides.
They are Deputy Brian Davis and his German Shepherd Zena of the Westmoreland County K9 Unit, and as Davis put it, they are here to stay.
Having graduated from the Virginia State Police (VSP) Basic Canine School in December, Davis admitted he was “new to the game” with the three-year-old Zena, who made the overseas trip to Montross from the Czech Republic to join the unit.
But in spite of only 13 weeks of real experience, he and Zena bonded quickly.
“I come from a [Labrador Retriever] family and I don’t ever want my dogs to pass because I treat them like kids,” said Davis. “But if they did, I think I may be done with labs after having her.”
Davis and Zena assist in any type of operation that involves narcotics, following up on search warrants, making traffic stops and assisting in schools.
Davis added that, under state police jurisdiction, he could go anywhere in the region with his drug-finding companion, provided the distance was reasonable.
Zena has even assisted VSP in drug searches within schools as far out as Yorktown and Richmond.
Sheriff C.O. Balderson said that Zena was the county’s first-ever narcotics canine.
“It’s crucial to us, especially in our unwavering efforts to combat the use and distribution of illegal drugs,” said Balderson. “This was a resource that we wanted to have before now, [and] to be able to finally acquire this is an amazing opportunity.”
Balderson added that Davis and Zena were “very compatible.”
“They work really well, and it’s the partnership and the bond that the two [need to] share in order to do this type of operation,” Balderson said.
With drugs becoming an increasingly pressing issue in Westmoreland County, Davis said Zena’s biggest contribution to their work was deterrence.
“If you’re going out in the general public, whether it’d be the local county or our county in general, it’s just the talk of the town,” Davis said. “It’s like, ‘Oh, crap,’ because our drug detectors are already on top of their game.”
But while intimidating and bursting with energy, Davis noted that Zena’s job description entails her to be friendly, as she often interacts with students in the schools that she searches for drugs.
“I can just walk her in and around 7-11 on a Friday night, just letting her know that people are okay,” Davis said.
At home, Zena also gets along wonderfully with Davis’ family, but even at home, her playtime with her handler is strictly work-oriented.
“She’s got to want the reward,” said Davis, as K9 handlers reward the dogs’ work on every assignment with a toy.
The training paid off for Zena as she located marijuana in a vehicle on her very first shift.
“That’s really good for her. Even the instructors that I called and let them know were like, ‘Okay, that didn’t take long,’” Davis chuckled.
When questioned about the inconsistency of retaining dogs and their owners in local law enforcement, Davis said it was a matter of the officer remaining dedicated to his or her canine.
“With the training of the dog… you have to do something roughly every night with her…to keep her going and keep her excited,” said Davis.
“With that, it’s all great in the beginning,” he added. “You’re like, ‘I love dogs and I don’t mind the training.’ But then when you get to actually doing it, you can get burned out really quick.”
But Davis, who was already aware of the commitment coming into Westmoreland County, does not plan on leaving anytime soon. And he certainly won’t allow himself to be separated from Zena.
“Personally, they’re going to have to, like, kick me out and blow me up or something [because] I don’t want to leave without her,” said Davis. “Of course, I don’t plan on leaving, but…she stays with me 24/7.”
As they continue with their assignments, Davis said with a laugh that Zena is still trying to figure out what he can accomplish. But both of them are steadfast in their duties, he noted.
“It’s just another thing for me as far as just trying to get drugs out of the area,” he said.
For more information, contact the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office at 804-493-8066.