A remarkable group of men and their K-9 team have been involved in training sessions and recoveries in the area.
The bloodhounds that make up this all volunteer based K-9 team are Daisy, Molly, Rufus and Slugger. The dog's handlers and trainers are Michael Bristow, Tony Sutton and Tim Mansfield of the Lynn Fire Department, Blake Bristow of Jonesboro and Jody Presser of the Cave City Fire Department.
Presser is excited to offer Slugger's services to the area. Michael Bristow was instrumental in establishing and certifying the Lawrence County Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) and securing funding for handheld radios for the team. These radios are vital in their search operations, so the K-9 teams have a clear line to their fellow members without interference from sheriff radio communications.
Although these bloodhounds are the heart of the K-9 team, Blake Bristow's German Shepard Roxy is also a vital part of the team. She is a cadaver dog, one that is trained to locate dead bodies. They are all members of the Search Dog Alliance of Arkansas.
The newest K-9 member is Slugger. He and his handler, Presser work together as volunteers with the Cave City Fire Department. Presser trained Slugger himself with guidance from Michael Bristow, who has trained the other dogs on the team.
Slugger will work nose to nose with the other K-9 search dogs from Lawrence County for rescues, not only in Sharp County but as needed statewide.
These dogs are trained to standards set forth by the United States Department of Homeland Security and work on a volunteer basis. These men devote their time, money and effort into training these animals. They never ask for a fee for their services, but do accept donations.
Michael Bristow has been working with bloodhounds since 2005. He inherited his first dog when a fellow trainer suffered a stroke. He began training Daisy with the aid of books, videos and seminars and has been working with these dogs since then.
Recently, this team, along with 37 other handlers and 12 instructors, met for a seminar at Camp Robinson Wildlife Demonstration Area in Faulkner County for training by some of the nation's best trainers.
At this seminar, this local team was given the thumbs-up on their dogs by nationally renowned instructor Charlie Douthett.
Douthett is a retired certified instructor for the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy and an FBI bomb technician. Douthett has worked with both state and federal agencies across the Midwest and was instrumental in renewing interest in utilizing bloodhounds for post explosive scent experiments.
The manner in which these dogs track is unique in comparison to other tracking dogs who track by broken vegetation, footprints and visual impressions in the ground. This can be problematic if there are several persons in the area which may quickly contaminate a search area.
This K-9 unit tracks by scent discrimination, whether it is from a vehicle seat, article of clothing or any other item that might hold the scent of the individual being sought. Michael Bristow says that a vehicle is the best device for the dogs to get a scent. They can track the scent from one intersection to another, eliminating a lot of walking when search time is vital.
These bloodhounds can be used to assist in searches for missing persons, escaped convicts, and suspects fleeing from law enforcement and even drowning victims. Their scent receptors are so strong that even if a victim has drown, their scent will reach the surface of the water and the bloodhound will hit on the scent, even if it is days old, unlike dogs who rely on human tracks.
Two of Michael Bristow's dogs in this team assisted in the recovery of a drowning victim at Poughkeepsie; the dogs quickly hit on the scent and were in the water in record time. In another recovery, the dogs recovered a victim who was in an area that was highly contaminated or trampled by other search operatives and was over 48 hours old. The dogs hit on the scent in the water and the recovery was quickly made.
Many people are not aware of the capabilities of these remarkable rescue dogs.
These floppy eared hounds know their business when it comes to search and rescue, as their breed was created by a culmination of other scent hounds. Bloodhounds were used during the pre-Civil War era to track runaway slaves. Their scent receptors are 60 times greater than that of normal dogs. The folds in the skin around their face and ears enable them to hold a scent in for days.
"Bloodhounds are not aggressive by nature, they are a friendly breed," Presser said. "They will track for days if not on lead until they find their scent." This means that they must not be let to run loose to track without being on a lead or harness attached to their handler.
The handlers equip themselves with specially designed thick leather belts, which protect their backs and secure the dogs. These belts have strong metal attachments for the dog's leads. Bloodhounds pull from their backs so they are also equipped with harnessess, rather than just collars.
This K-9 team will be a very valuable asset to fire departments, law enforcement and the search and rescue community.
Thanks to many selfless volunteers like Presser and his team with their K-9 family, the community can be assured if the need for their services ever arise, a simple phone call and these dogs and their handlers will be on the trail.