NEWSMAKER: Nose to the Grindstone“Every time I work with her it amazes me,” VanKekerix said. “She gets on a scent and she stays with it even if she is deterred by other scents or distractions.”
By: Holly Henry, Living North Magazine
When Lake County Sheriff’s Deputy Steve VanKekerix reports for duty each day, he gets to work with the perfect partner: She doesn’t complain, does everything VanKekerix asks and stares at him in adoration.
So she smells like a dog and drools a bit. Most bloodhounds do.
Katie was donated to the department by the Alie Foundation, an organization that places bloodhounds with law enforcement for the purpose of search and rescue. The foundation was established by the family of 5-year-old Alie Berrelez who was abducted and murdered in 1996. Though her abductor was never found, her body was located by police bloodhounds.
When VanKekerix saw an e-mail three years ago stating that the Lake County Sheriff’s Department was eligible to receive a bloodhound pup, he put his hand up.
“I did some research and talked to people who have tracking dogs and I could see the value in having her at our department,” he said. “They have an amazing ability to track scents and are often the key to solving cases of missing people.”
VanKekerix said Katie, like her fellow bloodhounds, is genetically designed to follow a scent trail for hours, or even days. The dogs can detect as few as one or two cells because they have nasal chambers larger than most other breeds. Their unusually long and floppy ears prevent wind from scattering nearby skin cells while their nose is on the ground, and the folds of wrinkled flesh under their lips and neck catch stray scent particles.
“Every time I work with her it amazes me,” VanKekerix said. “She gets on a scent and she stays with it even if she is deterred by other scents or distractions.”
Katie’s biggest accomplishment, he said, was finding a missing toddler who wandered off from a Two Harbors residence. She located the 2-year-old a half-mile into a swampy area.
“There is nothing like witnessing that,” VanKekerix said. “When you see a dog work like that and you see a parent reunited with a child, it’s indescribable. She’s an incredible dog.”
Not only does this hound dog perform amazing feats, she’s also a wonderful family pet.
“She is social, affectionate, gentle and obedient and we adore her,” VanKekerix said.
“She’s been a delight since day one.”
The feeling is obviously mutual. Katie flops at her master’s feet and randomly rises to jump up and place her paws on his shoulders, offering a slurpy kiss on the face. When not in the squad car she can be found perusing the sheriff’s department for treats.
“The only time she causes trouble is when she doesn’t get enough exercise – and then she chews,” VanKekerix said. “Oddly, she always goes for my wife’s stuff.”
VanKekerix and Katie try to curb this excess of energy by walking two miles a day. They also visit area schools, churches and community organizations to show off her skills.
“She’s certainly a magnet,” Katie’s master said. “People want to know all about her.”