At around 12:15 am on Wednesday, April 5, 2006, my cell phone rang on the nightstand next to my bed. Hawkins County Sheriff’s Deputy, Sargent Greg Larkins said “We have a six year old girl that’s been missing since 4:15 p.m. this past evening; The Sheriff, Warren Rimer, wants to know if you could bring your dog out and help look for her”. I told him that I would load the dog box into my truck and be on my way. He said to wait a minute, he had the Sheriff on the radio, and he wanted to see if the Sheriff wanted me to wait until daylight. I told him that 8 hours had already passed and that the sooner we got on her trail, the better. The Sheriff gave the approval and I met the Deputy at the intersection of 11W and highway 70 in Rogersville, Tennessee for an escort across Clinch Mountain to where the little girl, Sarah, lived–46 miles from my home. Sarah lived in a remote end of Hawkins County, Tennessee. On the way across Clinch Mountain, I said a small prayer, “Please let the little girl be found safe and alive.”
When I arrived, there were people milling around everywhere and it was obvious they had done a hasty search around the house. There was a Rescue Squad vehicle and numerous other cars and trucks parked everywhere. I was told at the scene that when Sarah went missing, she had two dogs with her and a little black puppy. The two larger dogs returned home soaking wet and very muddy, but Sarah and the puppy did not.
I asked the Deputy for a scent article and was told that they had already tried two other dogs by using the little girl’s backpack and a jacket that she had worn to school. I told him I wanted to get another scent article– too many people had handled the ones he had. He took me to the house which was a rough wood sided house, and introduced me to Sarah’s mother. I told her I needed another scent article and asked her for a pillowcase or bed linen from Sarah’s bed. She led me to Sarah’s bedroom that had a sheet of ragged cardboard for a door. In the room, another little girl was asleep on the bed. Along one wall was a mound of clothes nearly touching the ceiling. From this pile, the mother pulled a sweater which she said Sarah had worn the day before. I bagged it and went outside to unload Bobby Lee.
Bobby Lee is a 15 month old male Bloodhound and weighs 110 lbs. He had just passed his MT Certification two weeks prior in Leesburg Virginia. I should note here that both Bobby Lee and I just started training for search and rescue work only six months ago. Our training began in October, 2005 at the Old Dominion K-9 SAR Seminar in Appomattox, Virginia under the guidance of two excellent instructors, Al Means of Pennsylvania, and Jennifer Parker of Florida.
I took Bobby Lee over to the left side of the house where the police dogs had picked up Sarah’s trail and circled him in the area to check it out. Sargent Larkins was to accompany me on the trail. Two volunteer firemen asked him if they could accompany us because they were familiar with the area. Deputy Larkins asked me if I would mind if the firemen accompanied us and I told him that would be fine, as we didn’t want to get lost. After a few minutes, I harnessed Bobby Lee, scented him with the sweater, and gave him the command to “FIND”. Nine hours had passed since little Sarah was last seen.
The two police dogs (one of which was a 9 year old German Shepherd), picked up a trail leading away from the house in a westerly direction. Their trail continued along a grassy path and out to a plowed field and started up a slope into the mountain and then lost the trail.
Bobby Lee trailed Sarah through the side yard and around a swing set before working along the grassy path. We trailed about halfway across the plowed field then cut right and angled up the steep side of Piney Mountain. We climbed the slope for about 200 yards and then dipped down into a hollow and back out again. It was a cool, clear night with the temperature dropping to the low 30s. Sarah’s scent was being forced down into the hollows and creating a heavy pool scent.
The trail continued up to the top of Piney Mountain and then angled back to the right which took us in the opposite direction where the other dogs had trailed. We trailed along the top of the ridge and briefly dropping off the far side. Once again, I thought that the wind had blown her scent off the top of the ridge. Anyone who has ever handled a bloodhound knows what its like to crawl under blow downs, fight through briars and tangles of grapevines, slide down steep slopes, and claw your way back up–all of this in the dark of the night, by flashlight.
Periodically along the trail I would ask Bobby Lee “ Where’s Sarah?” Bobby Lee trailed back up to the top and started down the side and hit a fire trail. We continued down into a hollow along the fire trail and we came out into a small clearing a third of the way down the side of the mountain which was wet and muddy. As Bobby Lee continued down the hollow, we came to a small pond and I was afraid to look in the water, afraid we might find her there. Fortunately, it was only about a foot deep and she wasn’t there. Bobby Lee continued around the pond to the runoff and continued on down the hollow.
A little while later, we came to another semi-clear swampy area. I told the firemen to look for tracks and they found two sets of dog tracks—one medium and one small. We reasoned that this was a likely spot for the dogs to have gotten muddy. Bobby Lee circled this area several times and didn’t seem to want to leave or be able to break away from it. I took him off harness and we all finally found a way around the high grass fringe of the swamp.
As we started on down the hollow, following a semi-trail of sorts, next to the runoff of the swamp, Bobby Lee started acting like he had picked up scent again. We stopped and I harnessed him again and told him “FIND”. He immediately started pulling on the lead and trailed down the hollow along the water. Bobby Lee went about 200 yards and then did an about face and went back along the same path to the swampy area. He circled the area again. By this time, we had been trailing for 4 hours and sunrise was only a few hours away. Bobby Lee was tired, as were the four of us. By my estimate, we had traveled 3 miles up and down slopes, into hollows, wherever Sarah’s scent had drifted. I told the Deputy that at sunrise (in about 2 hours), this was the spot where he needed to start a search group.
The Firemen were not sure where we were as we started out but after walking about 300 yards, we came out next to a house. We walked down the driveway to a paved road which was about 1 ½ miles from Sarah’s home. We had ended our search in Black Sheep Hollow. We hitched a ride back to my vehicle where I loaded Bobby Lee and headed home.
Around 11:30 that morning, I called the Hawkins County Sheriff Department and found out Sarah hadn’t been found yet. At 12 noon, we heard over a police scanner that “Sarah had just been found!” I called the Sheriff’s office for details and I was told that Bobby Lee was right on the money! Sarah was found by a searcher named Andy Ausband in Black Sheep Hollow, close to where we had stopped. She had climbed up on the side of the hollow and sat down against a tree, stuffed her little black puppy under her shirt, and went to sleep. Sarah told investigators later that she had been playing with her puppy in the back of her dad’s pickup truck when the family’s other two dogs took off towards the woods. The puppy fell out of the truck and tried to follow the other dogs but couldn’t keep up so Sarah picked up the puppy and tried to follow the larger dogs and got lost. When Sarah was found, she was muddy from her shoes to her waist and was scratched up, but she still had her little black puppy. Sarah told the investigators she had heard the helicopters but her legs were so cold that they were too numb to stand up.
The afternoon that Sarah went missing, 10 search teams including 168 searchers, along with 2 canine units, 1 German Shepherd from Hawkins County Sheriff Department, and 1 German Shepherd from the Hawkins County Rescue Squad were utilized. The following morning at daylight, 100 searchers along with a helicopter from the Hawkins County Sheriff’s Department, another helicopter equipped with FLIR Infrared Technology from the Knoxville Sheriff’s Department, 4-wheelers and rescue squads from Hawkins County, Church Hill, Morristown, Greenville, Hancock County, Grainger County, and Bean Station, plus volunteer fire departments from Clinch Valley, Striggersville, and Lakeview all participated.
Bobby Lee was credited for guiding the searchers to the area where Sarah was found. If I had another bloodhound to bring back in to where we stopped, I believe Sarah would have been found a lot sooner. Unfortunately, there were none. Thankfully, she survived with only scratches.
This was my very first experience and one that I will never forget. I was thankful for the opportunity to finally meet Sarah and her little black puppy and have already decided on the name of my next bloodhound—it will be “Sarah”.
Written by: Bobby Lee, & Dave Austin
More Dog Training News from my Tennessee Rescue Volunteer
“I just returned from a six day VBSAR seminar (Virginia Search & Rescue) in Leesburg Virginia this past Friday. One of the trails we ran, an instructor took paper towels and wiped the sweat off of his head and placed them in a metal bowl and set them on fire. He then caught the smoke in plastic baggies and gave each of us one. Then he and another instructor walked up the road. After about 10 minutes I scented my bloodhound with the smoke in the bag and had him trail and identify the correct person. Another exercise involved about 10 people. One of the ten walked off and hid. I walked my bloodhound around the remaining people in the group and had him smell each of them while I told him no at each one. After he had sniffed each one I placed his work harness on him and told him to get to work. The object was to see if he would remember who he had smelled and know that someone was missing and have him find that missing member without a scent article. He took off at the command to get to work and trailed the missing person and found him. We did a bunch of stuff like this that was totally new to me and him. ”
Pretty amazing stuff…