Ferry police department adds bite

MARTINS FERRY — Spending 12 hours in a police car with a dog is not a bad thing.

Not at all — as long as you are not under arrest and that four-legged companion is Ecko.

Ecko is the new face and paws of the Martins Ferry Police Department, coming on board this summer, along with his officer/handler Chad Kuhn.

The City of Martins Ferry takes pride in its police department. That being the case, it invested a great deal in adding a canine unit.

“When looking to purchase a canine for our police department we took our time searching for the right dog for our community. Chief (John) McFarland looked at several different dogs at different training facilities but he wasn’t real impressed with what was available at the current time,” Mayor Paul Riethmiller said. “After searching and patiently waiting, we all heard about this outstanding canine named Ecko coming from overseas into the Cleveland airport, where he was picked up and transported to Columbus, to complete his drug searching techniques.”

“We soon learned that Ecko was the perfect fit for our community. He was trained overseas for search and rescue which will allow us to search for missing children or elderly residents in our city,” the mayor continued. “Ecko can also track suspects involved in criminal activities, and he already has tracked his first suspect over a mile before the arrest was made with the suspect hiding inside a structure.”

Kuhn, a Toronto native, was a highly regarded officer with the Alliance police force. He was wooed to Ferry by Mayor Riethmiller’s and Police Chief McFarland’s hard-line stance on crime. It was a career move Kuhn never thinks twice about.

“We were looking to add a few full-time officers to our police force and the chief had mentioned about a young man by the name of Chad Kuhn, who was currently working in the Alliance area that was looking to come back to valley. After several trips back to the valley to see the chief, it was obvious that Chad would be a perfect fit for our department,” Riethmiller said. “Chad is a very bright and energetic young man who has a lot of experience working in a larger city but still has that home town personality that mixes well with the other officers and our residents. During the hiring process, we also found out that Chad was working with the canines in the Alliance area, so when asked by the chief, Chad accepted our offer to become our full-time canine officer.

“I accepted a pay cut to come here, but I am very happy and I would do it again. Mac (Chief McFarland) is pro-Martins Ferry and leads by example. He is not afraid to light us up if need be, but he has our backs and we all respect him. I would run through a wall for him,” said Kuhn.

I had the opportunity recently to ride with Kuhn and Ecko for a 12-hour shift during the Belmont County Drug Blitz. I discovered Ecko is integral in the fight against drugs in the Ohio Valley.

Ecko was key in a heroin bust the first day of the drug blitz. He is remarkable at sniffing out illegal substances. I had a first-hand look at that keen ability several times. Ferry police and other area departments will get much mileage from it.

Kuhn has developed a special bond with Ecko, spending 24/7 with the canine deputy.

“Ecko never has a bad day. Not many police officers can say that,” Kuhn noted. “He is a mascot that can kick butt. Hopefully, he never has to bite anyone.

“When he gets familiar with a person, he can become annoying. He become over friendly. But if he is given a command to go after someone, he becomes a terror. It is not a pretty sight,” Kuhn added. “We go back to Columbus twice a month for additional training.”

Kuhn says there is one downside of being partners with a police dog.

“Ecko is like a baby. You have to take constant care of him. I take Ecko home with me after work,” Kuhn said. “Sometimes that makes it difficult to take my wife and son places if we are going to be gone a good while. But that is a small price to pay for how many positives Ecko brings to the table.”

Kapral may be reached at bkapral@timesleaderonline.com