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Kentucky campground hosts training for K9 search and rescue dogs

Every year, dozens of search dogs and their handlers travel to Kentucky from around the US to train in the art of finding missing people.

GRAYSON COUNTY, Ky. — Every year thousands of people are reported missing in Metro Louisville and while most are eventually found - some never are.

But in almost every disappearance, a special investigator is brought in to help, using their nose to solve some of the area's most high-profile cases. Once a year, dozens of dogs and their handlers train together in Kentucky to learn the art of search and rescue.

"The majority of hounds around here are what we can scent discriminating or man trailing," one trainer explained.

The program is called K Star K9 Seminar and is based at a campground in Grayson County. The event involves workshops for search and rescue, certification training and testing. Bloodhounds are the focus of the training but German Shepherds and other types of dogs attend too.

When Bloodhounds latch onto a scent and get to work, they won't stop until they find the source, according to trainers. That's what makes them so good are finding people missing. A simple sniff of a hat or toothbrush is enough to set the dogs off on a mission.

"Their noses are never off - their noses are always on," the trainer said. 

This annual training is designed for law enforcement and civilian search and rescue. By the end of the weekend, the handler and the dog should be able to work together, learning each other's movements and skills so the four-legged partner can be a tool to find the missing.

"Of course, everyone hopes that people don't go missing but we want to be prepared and we want to be able to help our neighbors and our community," Megan, from California, said.

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She explained she made the trip for the hands-on approach to the work. While another trainee, Kayla, who came from Alaska, said in her part of the country, dogs can be the difference between life and death. 

"Humans don't have the capability to find people like a dog does," Kayla with Alaska Search and Rescue said, "There's a lot of accidents. There are people who get caught in the elements and more than anything there is a lot of acreage and not a lot of people to cover that."

They said the training is worth the trip because the women behind the weekend have specific experience with bloodhounds and they know how to teach others the best way to use them for K9 search and rescue.

"The first time your dog makes that find, it's like… tears me up now," Toni Goodman with Kentucky Bloodhound Search Rescue said. Goodman has participated in thousands of searches. So has Judy Braun, with Bluegrass Bloodhounds.

"We want people here that are here for results. That's what we're about. We're about bringing them home," Braun said.

Both have experience with high-profile cases including searches in rural parts of Nelson County. They were on the scene, during the search for Crystal Rogers. Goodman remembers working her dogs on a farm, tracing Crystal's scent.

"Crystal's case is a scary case and there were times where… we were… concerned for our safety," Goodman said.

But they said the training is as much for the dogs as it is for the men and women on the other side of the leash. Human handlers can easily disrupt a search by misreading a dog's cues. That is something they try to master by the end of the weekend.

"You have contamination, you have distractions, extra dogs - a lot of people walking around - and when there's a missing child, those things are going to be happening and the dogs need to be able to work through that," Braun said. 

Now they're using that experience to train the next generation. They have created a weekend experience full of tricky terrain and distractions. They said it's important to have the dogs experience all elements now before a life is on the line.

"A half a million children go missing every year in the US. There is a huge demand for it," Braun said, "We take a lot of risks doing this."

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