By Diana Henry
When the call came from England on Monday, the young woman in her clipped but dulcet accent asked for three rooms, two for the filmmakers and one for a trainer – and would it be OK for him to have the bloodhound with him, in a crate of course, for the night – I was taken aback. I had had a few inquiries for a “small dog in a carrier” before, but this would be my first firm reservation for a canine. I was apprehensive; we have two cats on the premises, which discourages people who have allergies, but attracts others. Guests who miss their cats are happy to cuddle with Babe and Orange when they come to the Lathrop House B&B in Springfield.
But a bloodhound? I had no idea what a bloodhound even looks like. I had a vague notion of a hound of the Baskervilles, mists and moors and Sherlock Holmes. It was faintly sinister and certainly intriguing, and I said yes, because I don’t like to turn guests away, even in the busy summer months. The idea of welcoming a new addition to the State Police also seemed patriotic. It was even worth taking a chance that our old feline, Orange, might take off for an hour or a day. After all, our guests help keep our cats in prescription cat food, so it made sense that they should make Holly welcome too. So up went the sign by our back door: “Welcome, Holly [the bloodhound should come first, right?] Larry [her trainer] Karen [the camerawoman] and Aidan [the sound man].”)
K-9 handler Larry J. Allen was immediately likeable, and, during our walk around the block in historic Forest Park Heights after he got her out of the car, Holly stole my heart.
She’s a big dog – much bigger than I expected – and obviously sincere in her intentions to do good. She has the friendliness of a dog who has found kind humans at last, after going through five homes in her first year of life. She has been with Larry and his wife in West Virginia for the last four months, and her training has honed her skills to truly astounding perfection. In her last trial, the day before Larry brought her to Springfield to turn her over to the MA State Police, she took only two and a half minutes to find the spot in a stadium where, the day before, a man had found a seat among 1,500 people.
Even climbing up the metal bleachers following the scent where he had walked did not phase her, while her competitor had balked at the sensation of her toenails clattering on the aluminum and could not complete the mission. “Not every bloodhound makes a good scent dog, and even when they are capable, they can encounter new situations and need to be trained out of their fears and phobias,” Larry explains. In her own training, for example,Holly was exposed both to flying in helicopters and to being on the ground while a helicopter moved up and down above her, a situation she may encounter in wilderness searches and rescues.
Could a dog like Holly have helped find the girl who went missing in Aruba, I asked Larry? Yes, he assured me, if she had been brought in early on – his oldest find was nine days old, a young man who had wandered through city streets under the influence of way too much alcohol and ended up at the bottom of a river. Bloodhounds help find missing persons, Alzheimers patients, abducted children and criminals.
Larry not only trains dogs but responds to calls from law enforcement all over the US, and is accustomed to packing up a dog in the middle of the night to hurry out to help. His six-year stint as a commissioned police officer makes it easier for him to deal with the needs of the multiple agencies involved in the search efforts, while his dogs focus on the task at hand.
“The dogs are so focused on the scent that they will drop dead or fall over a cliff” before they stop the search, according to Larry, who describes his role as one of “assisting, encouraging and protecting” the dogs he works with while they do their job. “My purpose is to drive the car, carry the water, and hand out the treats,” he says in his gentle way. Larry also trains German shepherds, first as patrol dogs, where they train for obedience, agility, gunfire and bitework, and then – if they prove worthy – ttakes them on to specialize in explosives, narcotics or cadavers.
At home, Larry and his wife also keep goats – used as pack animals in the Washington wilderness – , a cat, his personal bloodhound (a tracking/trailing dog) a German Shepherd (his human remains detection dog) and two retirees that he trained and has taken back to live out their lives as pets: a nine-and-a-half-year-old bloodhound and a twelve-year-old Australian cattle dog. They have runs in his yard and keep safe at night, and out of the weather, in large crates in his basement.
The dogs are certified through Tracking Dogs International (TDI). The American Bloodhound Club (www.bloodhounds.org ) is the national organization which can be accessed for information and links about bloodhound events that are held throught the year and around the world. [There is one coming up in September in Cazenovia, NY. -NB: check]
When Larry and the filmmakers, who have been following him through all the months of Holly’s training, returned to the Lathrop House B&B after their day of filming her test at the State Police headquarters, Holly was not with them. She had (of course!) passed the exam with flying colors, and her new handler had invited everyone back to his house to see Holly safely into her new home.
Karen and Aidan, veterans of many films made for Tigress Productions, UK, including such programs as “Lost Crocodiles of the Pharoahs”, “Talking to Animals”, “The Natural History of Christmas” and “The Real King and Queen,” have returned to England to complete this, their newest, film about working dogs. Larry has two more dogs waiting on him for training, and a third that a Sheriff’s department in Virginia wants him to train.
And while the Brits enjoyed fresh fruit and granola for their B&B breakfast, Larry, true to his law enforcement roots, chose the treat that is known to comfort and strengthen the will of policemen nationwide: the jelly doughnut. Oh – and our 17 year-old Orange kitty, after staring down Holly for a good ten minutes before taking a stroll, is back on the ottoman in airconditioned comfort and solitary splendor.