K-9 rescue seminar in Lehigh Acres on Thursday
LEHIGH ACRES – Presley, a nearly 1-year-old border collie born on Elvis’ birthday, is eager to play. But first he has to do what his trainer wants.
At a field here Thursday morning, Michelle Layton lines Presley up at the start of a pre-arranged row of six cans. Hidden in one of them is a knot of a human femur. Layton wants Presley to find the bone.
She lets Presley lead her. He snoops the area around the cans and pulls the leash taut. He slows near a can marked with a white sticker. He lowers his head to the can, then gently licks around the edge of its open top.
“Good boy!” Layton says in the low, gutteral tone she knows Presley will understand. She rewards the dog with a couple of pieces of cheese.
Suzi Goodhope steps in.
“I didn’t like his reaction,” she says.
She wanted Presley more excited by his reward. Next time, when he finds the can, they’ll toss him his tennis ball, she said.
Goodhope, a resident of Havana, Florida, is one of the three lead trainers for the three-day K-9 rescue seminar this weekend run by the Southwest Florida K-9 Search Unit.
The local nonprofit, led by Punta Gorda resident D.J. Beddow, teaches people how to train their dogs to find missing people and dead bodies.
For Thursday’s opening day, a crew of about a dozen joined Goodhope and trainer Lisa Higgins for a session in the fields outside the Lee County Mosquito Control District headquarters.
Beddow’s group, founded in 1994, typically assists law enforcement on searches about a half-dozen times a year. In recent years their dogs have helped find missing children in Estero and a missing dementia patient in Clearwater.
The group’s dogs in 2013 found an Immokalee 2-year-old who had wandered from her home and was missing for 10 hours.
The missing aren’t always found alive, so dogs are trained to track the smell of cadavers, dried blood and fresh blood. Trainers use real body parts for practice, which they cull from medical examiner offices or from friends.
Haylee Carney, 17, has been training for six years. She’s already learned which human remains work best. Pulled teeth are good. Or any leftover bloody gauze from surgeries. Once, for use in the training, Carney clipped the toes off a severed foot.
“I have my little cousin’s placenta in my freezer,” Carney said.
Thursday’s group included Layton, 54, a Naples resident training Presley for the first time. By his third run through the lineup of tin cans, Presley was easily locating the can with the bone. Most dogs don’t take to it so quickly, Goodhope said.
“That dog did really well,” she said.