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Bloodhounds search for “missing” residents

By: Country Meadows |

It is a call feared by anyone who cares for a loved one with Alzheimer’s disease: that person is missing.

York resident Mary Knitter, 84, shares a kiss with K-9 Bodhi after being found during a missing persons drill. Photo Credit: John A. Pavoncello/The York Dispatch

Recently that call was made for two “missing” residents during the dinner hour at Country Meadows of York. Thankfully it was just a drill.

The residents volunteered to participate in a missing person simulation with handlers and bloodhound dogs from Summit Search and Rescue based in Lewisberry, Pa. The non-profit agency has bloodhounds trained in “man-trailing,” and has assisted law enforcement with missing persons and criminal cases. Drills such as the one at Country Meadows provide opportunities to keep search and rescue dogs’ skills sharp.

Terri Heck, who with her husband, Jim, operates Summit Search and Rescue, says, “We’re pretty diligent about training. We go to two to three seminars every year, we train Thursday nights and we train most weekends.” She says that a newspaper article about a woman missing from an assisted living facility and was later found dead, made her realize there is a need in the community as the number of seniors living with dementia continues to climb.

K-9 Briggs visits with resident Wilda Laughman, 87, after “finding” her during a training session. Photo Credit: John A. Pavoncello/The York Dispatch

Today one in nine people age 65 and older is living with Alzheimer’s disease, and that number is expected to triple by 2050. It is a sad reality that as the number skyrockets, community agencies need to hone skills to provide safe care as well as appropriate emergency services.

In addition to being adorably sweet and cuddly, Summit Search and Rescue bloodhounds Briggs and Bodhi, along with Lt. Lou from the York County Sherriff’s Department, know when it was time to go to work. The handler puts the dog’s work vest on the animal and tells him/her to go to work. “She’s not a dog now,” says Jim Heck after K-9 Briggs sniffs a resident’s item. “Now she has a job to do.”
The dogs take turns participating in multiple drills to seek the residents. To begin the search, each dog sniffs an item belonging to the missing person. Immediately the dog is on the trail.

“The average person loses 40,000 skin cells each minute,” shares Terri Heck. “That scent leads the dog along the trail someone took.”

Mary Annette Knitter, 84, loves dogs and enjoyed them hunting her down. “You found me, yes you did,” she laughs as K-9 Bodhi and K-9 Lt. Lou both find her during separate drills.

Fellow resident Wilda Laughman was delighted to meet K-9 Briggs when she was found in the dining room. “Well, I’m glad to meet you,” she says. “I’m glad you found me, and I’ll keep your picture forever.”

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