Bloodhounds descend on Hamilton County for training

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Clear skies and crisp fall air in central Indiana provided just the right conditions for Michael Sarvich to enjoy a week off from his job as an Amazon delivery driver.

He spent the time away in Hamilton County with his search-and-rescue partner, Joey, a 4-year-old bloodhound.

“People who don’t do this, they go on cruises, or they’re over in Europe,” Sarvich said. “My vacations are spent in a car with a dog in the woods.”

Sarvich and Joey, who live in Indianapolis and volunteer with the North Star International K9 Training Association, were among 15 teams from across the nation that participated Sept. 25-29 in the second bloodhound seminar organized by the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office. During the week, the teams visited several sites throughout the county to practice trailing techniques and gathered in the evenings for dinner and discussion.

HCSO held its inaugural bloodhound seminar in 2021 after COVID-19 restrictions closed a similar event held in Virginia to out-of-state handlers. Indiana’s COVID-19 measures were not as strict at the time, allowing teams to attend from across the nation. Neal Hoard, a HCSO deputy and seminar host, said the inaugural event went so well that HCSO plans to continue hosting it for the foreseeable future.

Bloodhounds have more scent receptors in their nose than any other dog breed, and their trailing work is so reliable it is permitted to be used as evidence in court in some states (although Indiana is not one of them). For those reasons, they are often used to follow trails of missing people or suspects on the run.

“They’ve been bred for this. They’re very efficient,” Hoard said. “They’re not agile. They’re made for straight lines and long distances.”

Hoard and his bloodhound, Maudie, are one of the few in central Indiana employed by a law enforcement agency. Some of the seminar participants work in law enforcement, including a team from the Boone County Sheriff’s Office, Hoard said, but the majority – like Sarvich – are volunteers.

Most volunteer bloodhound handlers purchase their own dogs, and they continue to fund expenses related to their care and training. They’re typically on call 24 hours a day and must be willing to head out to a case at a moment’s notice.

It’s not always easy, Sarvich said, but it’s worth the effort.

“We show up at someone’s house at probably one of the worst moments of their lives. Their family member is missing, and they don’t know what’s going on,” he said. “We show up to try to help.”

Franki Henriques, a volunteer with Search Dogs Northeast, traveled 15 hours from the Boston area with her 7-year-old bloodhound, Diamond, to attend the seminar. They also participated in 2021, and Henriques said the experience was “priceless.”

“We actually get to work alongside law enforcement, so we are training exactly the way they would train,” said Henriques, who works full time as a pet groomer. “When we are deployed, we can follow the same protocol and procedures that law enforcement would want us to take.”

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