York County went to the dogs this week.
More than 30 bloodhounds and their handlers from around the country are spending the week training in York County. The Police Bloodhound Handlers Winter Seminar is structured for beginner to advanced tracking bloodhounds and is conducted at several locations around the county.
A fee paid by each officer mainly goes toward food for the week, and the officers stay at Kings Mountain State Park where some of the training was conducted, said Trent Faris, spokesman for the York County Sheriff’s Office, which hosts the event.
Bloodhounds are known for being “gifted sniffers,” Faris said, and are used not just in searching for suspects but in helping find missing people or children.
“To a bloodhound, the human scent is like bacon,” Faris said. “It’s that strong.”
Training exercises require the dogs to find a trail and the subject under a variety of circumstances and challenges. In one exercise, the dogs had to find a track and follow it 24 hours after the subject came through the area.
“They’re learning to track out people from different scents,” Faris said. “The handlers are here also learning their dogs, reading them and finding out if they’re following the right trail.”
Officer Jack Dantzler has been with the Rock Hill Police Department for two years, but this was the first time he attended the York County bloodhound seminar.
“We are new to this,” he said. “I’ve learned so much about the dog’s body language, when they’re on the track, when they’re not on the track, how I can tell when they’re not and what I can do to get them back on.”
Dantzler and another Rock Hill officer brought Molly, one of the department’s two drug dogs, to the seminar.
“Their personalities are completely different,” Dantzler said of the bond between a K-9 and its handler. “You have to know your dogs’ personalities.”
Bloodhounds typically get a reward for finding their subject. Some react better to a treat or a toy, while others prefer affection and praise.
“Molly likes affection,” Dantzler said. “When she does a successful track, we’ll do treats or pet her up. Our other dog just likes to hunt. She doesn’t care about affection; she just wants to do the hunt.”
Training this week took place at several locations, including Kings Mountain State Park, the Moss Justice Center, the sheriff’s office training facility and around the cities of York and Clover, Faris said.
An exercise Wednesday was meant to get bloodhounds acclimated to riding in a helicopter in case they ever have to be transported by air and immediately begin tracking after landing. A few bloodhounds at a time piled into a State Law Enforcement Division helicopter with their handlers and flew a few miles away, got out of the helicopter and were given a smell to start tracking.
“It’s basically to get the dog used to the possibility of having to get into a helicopter,” Faris said.
Deputy Kelly Fosler and her bloodhound, Jessie, drove 1,500 miles from Jefferson County, Colo., to attend the seminar in York County for the second consecutive year. Fosler said there aren’t as many bloodhound handlers or training seminars in her area.
“You get a full week of solid training with a new instructor,” she said. “We get new people to track, and we don’t have woods in Colorado, so it’s something new.”
In addition to the dogs being better able to find a criminal or a missing person, Faris said, the training also has implications on the judicial side of cases.
“Training goes a long way, especially when you go to court and you’re talking to a jury,” he said. “‘How did you find John Smith and how did you know this was the person that robbed the store? It could have been anybody in the woods.’
“They say, ‘No, our training records show my dog is able to distinguish different scents and we do these different tracks and trainings,’” he said. “When you get into court, there’s no doubt that a dog, especially a bloodhound dog, knows how to track somebody through the woods or any kind of environment.”