Find-M’ Friends uses bloodhounds to search the lost, missing.
Photography by Alice Mary Herden
Linda Boyles, President of Find-M’ Friends and the Vice President Bridget Didsbury traveled from Crystal River to participate in the Hurricane Preparedness Expo at the Lowe’s Spring Hill store in June of 2018. This gave them the opportunity to introduce themselves to staff from the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office who was stationed adjacent to their booth.
The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office publishes Sheriff’s Briefing Notes on their public Facebook page and you may have seen alerts of *Missing Endangered
Adult or *Missing Juvenile, as the most recent case of that involved 89-year-old Anita Bartram on July 12, 2018.
Ms. Bartram suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and wandered off from her residence in Spring Hill. She was located 24 hours later, unharmed and returned to her family.
Find-M’ Friends is a nonprofit organization that was established in 2014 whose mission, stated on their website, is to enhance and increase the use of scent discriminating bloodhounds in searching for the missing or lost, as well as provide educational and/or demonstrations on how and why bloodhounds are so useful to find missing persons.
“We got involved with bloodhounds with another organization and we wanted to expand it and do more for our community,” Boyles said.
Find-M’ Friends has over eight purebred Bloodhounds ranging from 8 months to 9 years of age, which are bought from a certified AKA breeder.
Two of the older dogs are Ambassadors for the organization, three are certified working dogs and 6 pups are currently in training.
Both Linda and Bridget had a loved one who was dealing with Alzheimer’s and those personal experiences had been their driving force to make a difference.
“We are trying to branch out. We are spreading it in our community first and know what works and what doesn’t work to get the information out,” Bridget Didsbury said. “Alzheimer’s Family Organization (based out of Spring Hill, FL) has been kind to partnering with us and to help us spread the news at different events.”
In 2014, Boyles who had been training her own Bloodhounds and had the opportunity to show what Winchester (Winnie), just one of the Bloodhounds she was training, could do. A report came in of a woman who was missing for four days in the Citrus County area. Boyles had taken Winne alongside Citrus County law enforcement officers to search within a location where the missing woman may have wandered. However, the woman’s scent trail led Winnie to a totally different location and in turn directed them to the missing woman.
“Without Winnie the searched party would have never have went there. She tracked within 50 yards of the lady,” Boyles said. “The lady was found, she (Winnie) saved her life. She already given up, she was on the ground, had bug bites all over, she’s scratched up, she was in rough shape.”
After this successful recovery, Boyles and her Bloodhounds have created a huge awareness within the community.
“To save someone’s life and bring them home, you are on top of the world. Your dog did what you trained it to do. It feels good,” Boyles said.
Training Bloodhounds can start as earlier as 9 weeks of age with simple scent training routines created by track runners.
“When you lay a track your odor comes off your body up to 100 miles an hour,” Boyles said.
“It’s kind of like Pig-Pen,” Didsbury added.
As the training continues the level of difficulties increase, this includes a variety of locations and environments. Boyles explained that tracking in the woods the Bloodhounds can pick up the scent easier because there are many “items” to collect the scent.
“If I go to a parking lot it (scent) just falls to the ground and the wind pushes it. There is nothing to collect the scent. Urban tracks where there are multiple people- it’s a much harder to track a run,” Boyles said. “A big part of this is also socializing these puppies, making sure they are not afraid of anything.”
Bloodhounds are famed for their ability to recognize human scent over great distances and possibly days later; their keen sense of smell is merged with a strong and tenacious tracking instinct.
“More often than not, I’m called out and I have to go into a room for an article that I can use, maybe a shoe or a sock, something that you wore. If it went into the clothes hamper, or if anyone else touched it, its cross contaminated. The whole idea behind it (Scent Kit) is to give the bloodhound a pure scent and it saves time.”
Scent kits are a valuable connection to finding a missing person. The kit includes a jar, sterile pad, sterile gloves, secured tape strip and a label. The sterile pad is used while wearing the provided gloves to rub on the at-risk individual’s arm to absorb the scent. The sterile pad is then placed in the jar and sealed which can last up to seven-ten years. The bloodhound can pick up that scent to track the location of the missing person.
“If I am called and come out to look for that person, I have a pure scent to go by. It gives the bloodhound a little more of an edge, working off a pure scent and it saves time,” Boyles explained.
Providing scent kits to schools, nursing homes and other organizations started to weigh on personal finances for Boyles and searching for a way to lower the cost of production had to happen soon.
They were fortunate to have found the help they needed. Key Training Center in Lecanto provided the much needed assembly to package the scent kits.
“What we are extremely proud of is the Key Training Center (Lecanto), we partner with them. They are an adult work program and they build them (scent kits) for us,” Didsbury said.
With the successful search and recovery from the organization’s incredible Bloodhounds, including the 2017 recovery of Lainey Brammlett, a three year old girl missing in Floral City, Find-M’ Friends has rising support from their community and increasing awareness in surrounding counties.
Out of Harm’s Way Kit is a scent kit provided by Friend-M’ Friends. These kits can be just one way to ensure the safety and return for any at-risk individual.
Bridget Didsbury reminds us “To have a kit in place and save a life.”