Bloodhounds train to find missing elderly residents

John A Pavoncello
York Dispatch

Country Meadows of York has plans in place if any resident at the continuing-care facility should become confused and lost — and one involves four legs, long ears and a particularly keen sense of smell.

Lewisberry-based Summit Search and Rescue Inc. held a training session for its bloodhounds Thursday at the facility, where the dogs tracked their "missing" victims from the lobby down long hallways, through dining areas and even to a bathroom.

After a quick sniff of a small stuffed animal owned by 87-year-old resident Wilda Laughman, 3-year-old Briggs quickly trotted down a long hall, stopping at a bench Laughman had sat on during the day, then through the dining room were residents were having dinner.

K-9 Briggs, a bloodhound with Summit Search and Rescue, visits with Country Meadows of York resident Wilda Laughman, 87, after "finding" her during a training session, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Briggs, tail wagging, stopped at Laughman's feet.

"Well I'm glad to meet you," she said to Briggs. "I'm glad you found me, and I'll keep your picture forever."

Summit Search and Rescue has helped local law enforcement find missing children, seniors with dementia and lost hikers, and it has worked with officers on criminal investigations. The husband-and-wife team of Jim and Terri Heck, along with their bloodhounds, handled 91 search calls in 2016 and held 118 community programs and 56 days of training last year.

"This is our first drill in probably six years," said Bonnie Geisinger, director of community life at Country Meadows. "We already have a plan in action for residents for us as staff to go out and find people that are missing, but this is just an additional way to use the search dog to go out and find them in the neighborhood."

Nearly 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia, and that number is projected to skyrocket over the next 25 years. As these numbers increase, so, too, do the risks involved in providing safe and secure accommodations and care.

Resident Mary Annette Knitter, 84, gets a kiss after being "found" by search and rescue K-9 Bodhi at Country Meadows of York, Thursday, Jan. 12, 2017. John A. Pavoncello photo

Nursing and retirement communities, with a nearly overwhelming number of scents, provide the perfect setting for training bloodhounds, according to Terri Heck.

The bloodhound is known for a long, wrinkled face with loose-hanging skin and large, drooping ears, which collect scent and aid the dogs in their trailing. According to the American Kennel Club, bloodhounds’ powerful body and legs allow the breed to follow a trail over miles of tough, punishing terrain.

In addition to Briggs, 3-year-old Bodhi, owned by Maryjo Brown from Reading Hospital, and Lt. Lou, the purebred bloodhound from the York County Sheriff's Department, participated in the training.