- Associated Press - Monday, January 25, 2016

HENDERSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) - Two bloodhound puppies were hard at work sniffing out treats over a 10-yard patch of grass in Jackson Park last Wednesday. Henderson County Sheriff’s Office K-9 handlers and deputies Trenton Turpin and Ben Hawkins and their dogs were working on their second day of training. After looking for about three months for good additions to bring on board, the handlers had no idea they would be getting their dogs two weeks ago. They picked them up just north of Knoxville, Tenn. on Dec. 31 from an independent breeder.

“We found out Tuesday and drove up on Thursday,” Hawkins said. “We thought we were just going to look at them, and then we ended up coming back with them.”

The Sheriff’s Office looked all over the southeast, but every time they found a litter, most of the dogs were already claimed, said Cpl. Jeff Banks.

When the group drove to Tennessee and found these two females, the deal was closed.

“Their demeanor stood out to us,” Banks said. “But I would have been happy with all the puppies because they were females. It’s been my experience that females are more attentive and don’t get distracted like males tend to get while tracking.”

Banks has been training bloodhounds on and off since 1993, learning from his father, who is also a trainer, and other trainers who have helped the Sheriff’s Office over the years.

The puppies have the same father but were picked from different litters and are descendants of the bloodhound Duke, who starred in “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

Turpin’s dog was born Oct. 31, while the Hawkins’ was born Nov. 9 and was the runt of the liter.

The dogs will remain nameless until names are selected from suggestions from fifth-grade students in the county. The winning names will be announced in about two weeks.

Turpin and Hawkins are first-time handlers after being selected in October, and will be learning the ropes just like their dogs.

Wednesday was the second training session for the handlers and their dogs after first meeting on Jan. 6. For the next six months the group will meet for training every Wednesday for roughly six hours.

The dogs are eased into training with shorter distances over a short amount of time.

“We lay food down over 20 to 30 yard trails (creating) a scent pad,” Turpin said.

The deputies will then either create a direct line of sight trail or hide behind a bush and wait for the dog to find them.

“It’s nothing big starting off,” Turpin said. “And the training never stops.”

Not only are the puppies being trained to track missing persons, they’re also being house trained.

“I’m waking up every four hours to take her out and cleaning up pee,” Turpin said with a laugh.

As the dogs become conditioned they will advance to longer distances and more complicated trails, with different scents or changes in direction or surfaces.

When the dogs are six months old they’ll be ready for the initial certification exam and start working on the job with their handler.

“For the basic certification the dog needs to complete a 400-yard track with a cross track and one turn on different surfaces like grass, woods or tall grass,” Banks said. “I’m pretty confidet that they’ll get there in six to eight months.”

From there the dogs will work and train with their handlers to complete the second certification, which proves that the dog can successfully complete a track at least a mile and a half long.

“For the first six months it’s teaching the puppies, and for the next eight years they’ll teach their handlers,” Banks joked.

Both handlers are excited to see their dogs’ abilities.

“From the little that we’ve done with them, I think they’ll be great trackers and phenomenal dogs,” Hawkins said.

Even though these dogs are not searching for narcotics or drugs, they still have a very important job to do.

“Finding people is going to be very rewarding,” Turpin said. “I got pretty jacked up to get a bloodhound.”

The puppies will join four other dogs in the K-9 unit once they are certified. Bella and Jill are the current 7-year-old bloodhounds, but as they get older the Sheriff’s Office is looking to retire them.

“We wanted to start new ones to have continuity between the old ones and the new ones,” Banks said.

The four bloodhounds will work together before Bella and Jill are ready for full retirement.

The Sheriff’s Office also has two narcotic and article search dogs, Gitmo and Maik, Belgian Malinois dogs who also just joined the team.

“The sheriff and his command staff are committed to building the K-9 team back up again,” Banks said. “Our plan in the future is to add a couple more Malinois dogs. This is important to be able to help out the community.”

Now that the Sheriff’s Office has more dogs, they are hoping to supplement the Rescue Squad and fire departments when they are in need of a search dog or a bloodhound, Banks said.

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Information from: Times-News, https://www.blueridgenow.com

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