Law breaker beware. Salem added two new officers recently to help take a bite out of crime.
Sisters, Officer Gabby and Officer Gwen will soon start intensive police training but according to Fulton County and Salem City Officers Mark and Rhonda Long, potty training is first.
"Gary and Jo Perryman of Viola had a litter of bloodhounds and Jo contacted Fulton County Sheriff Walter Dillinger to see if he knew anyone who would be interested," Rhonda said. "They just wanted to give something back to the community. Walter knew Mark and I had raised bloodhounds in the past and he asked if we would be interested in taking one to use for drugs and or man tracking. Of course we jumped at the chance. So the Perrymans donated the two dogs to Mark and I for use with the agencies here."
"Gabby will eventually be a drug dog and Gwen will begin her trailing training shortly. We already have Lucy, who is a nine-year-old female, and she is going to have to retire," Rhoda said.
"We started raising bloodhounds about nine years ago when we got Lucy at five-weeks-old," she said.
Mark said they studied police dog training and began to learn the techniques necessary to prepare a bloodhound for law enforcement.
"You have to start out with a scent article," Mark said. "Let them smell it, then drag it on the ground, hide it and let them find it. It's a big game, that's all it is when you're training them. Once they find whatever they are looking for you just praise them and reward them with a treat or something," he said.
"It is not hard to do, the main thing is, it is just very time consuming. Training has to be done everyday; just religiously it has to be done. A bloodhound already knows how to track, it is bred into them. But it is like Rhonda says, you have to learn to read your dog," he said.
"I may be completely nuts, but bloodhounds will teach you what to do, if you learn to trust your dog. That is the hardest thing, trusting the dog," she said.
According to Mark, tracking dogs hunt fleeing suspects, help locate missing children, sniff out escapees and Mark has been called on to use the skills of his bloodhounds on several occasions. But one instance sticks out in his mind.
"When I walked in the trailer he (a suspect) went out the back door. He jumped off a 14-foot balcony, and I went right over with him. I was able to keep up with him, just not for very long. He jumped a 4-foot barbed wire fence and I ain't kidding you, he looked like a deer. I called in the bloodhounds to track him and didn't even know the guy was around but he was hid up behind a dozer pile. We came down the trail and the dog cut a hard left and he was right there. I would have stumbled right over him; I didn't even see him," Mark said.
Bloodhounds need very dedicated attention and care, according to Rhonda.
"They are energetic without being aggressive," Rhonda said.
"Our grandkids just wallow all over them (Gabby and Gwen). They are great with kids, but I don't recommend them as a family pet. Anything a bloodhound can wrap it's mouth around it is going to eat," Mark said.
According to Mark, he has returned home from work to find a bloodhound had chewed a sizable hole right into the sheet rock of his newly built house. "My parents were due any minute and I was busy patching dry wall," he said.
Working to keep the walls standing is just one challenge taken on by Mark and Rhonda.
The bloodhound grows very rapidly and has a very healthy appetite, according to Mark.
"They eat 44 pounds of dog food a week when they are grown. They grow a half-inch in height a week and gain a pound a week and usually grow for two years. The females grow to between 90 and 100 pounds. The males grow to between 100 to 120 pounds," he said.
According to Mark, bloating, hip dysplasia, entropia, thyroid problems and allergies are common problems with bloodhounds as they age.
"A bloodhound's life expectancy is about nine or 10 years, but because they grow so fast when they get to be 5-years-old they have the body of a 15-year-old dog. They have a lot of health problems and are very high maintenance," Mark said.
The sister pups have years of good health ahead of them and Rhonda said the need for a drug dog is ever present. Gabby and Gwen will be busy after they are ready for duty, according to Rhonda.
"This may sound like an exaggeration but the potential need is everyday," she said.
"As far as tracking is concerned, not as much, not unless someone runs or there is a child or alzheimer's patient that needs to be found," Mark said.
According to Mark and Rhonda, they are solely responsible for Gabby and Gwen. The training and the hours spent everyday preparing the bloodhounds for their future mission is volunteer. Veterinarian bills, food, water, shelter, down to chew toys are all paid for by Mark and Rhonda, out of pocket.
Mark said they do not accept money. Their efforts and the efforts of the dogs are purely a volunteer service. Although, donations of dog food would not be refused.
"The dogs were donated by Fulton County citizens and we are giving something back," Rhonda said.
"As far as the tracking aspect of it, we are not just Fulton County only. We are not confined to this area. If we are needed somewhere else we will do our best to help," Rhonda said.
Rhonda said she will have Gabby with her on duty as much as possible.
"If somebody is on a traffic stop and they feel there is probable cause to search the vehicle I would hate to have to go all the way out to the house to get the dog and possibly put the officer at risk," she said.
The intensive training is all in preparation for a real life moment when the bloodhound will have to react and complete tasks successfully.
"It makes you proud, very proud. Like the guy we tracked behind the dozer pile, he had dropped a visor cap and I clipped it around her neck and she just pranced. She did excellent and I was walking on water that day," Mark said.
"I have been teasing about Gabby being K9-11, but they are just part of the family," Rhonda said.