Bloodhound Training

From left, deputies Alex Rhodes and Heather Clary present Sgt. Jeff Graham, former commander of the Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office bloodhound tracking team, a memento celebrating his departure from the team after two decades. (Index-Journal photo by  Damian Dominguez )

Bloodhound team veterans let
younger deputies take the leash

NOTE: The following article aprared in the May 7 issue of the Index-Journal,and is reprinted with permission. Featured in the article is Heather Clary, daughter of Elaine and Davind Clary of Saluda.

By Damian Dominguez This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

  Bloodhounds barked jealously Wednesday evening as a Greenwood County deputy grilled turkey burgers outside their kennels.
  Under the roof of the utility building attached to the sheriff’s office kennels, uniformed deputies handed out paper plates, trading stories of their years on the Bloodhound Tracking Team. Two veteran dog handlers were celebrating retirement, while a pair of young deputies were paying respects to their former commander, ready to try and fill his shoes.
  Sgt. Jeff Graham wasn’t one of the team’s founding members in 1993, but he joined it soon after, and has spent more than two decades helping track suspects and missing people with the help of canine detectives’ keen sense of smell. For the past 16 years, he served as the team’s commander.
  The current kennels are found along a stretch of road behind the sheriff’s office named Dax’s Alley, after the team’s first bloodhound. Graham helped design the current building, based on the needs and shortcomings of the original kennels.
  Graham has seen dozens of bloodhounds come through the team and built a close bond with each of them. “Red” came to live with Graham and his wife, Angie, after Red got too old to keep chasing scents.
  “Everybody thinks he’s called Red because of the Blake Shelton song, you know, ‘Ol’ Red,’” Graham said with a laugh.
  It’s simpler than that — when they assigned collars to that round of dogs, Red’s was red. Graham said each dog has a different tell, and each handler has to learn to look for specific cues. These highly trained dogs use consistent signals to let their handlers know if they still have the scent or if the trail has run cold. It’s a bit like learning another language.
  The bloodhound team is on call 24/7. Each member is also a full-time deputy, but when officers need tracking, the bloodhound team members can be called out at any hour, for as long as they’re needed.
  “They answer calls in the middle of the night, middle of the morning, 24/7, 365,” Graham said.
  Graham was one of the guests at Wednesday’s celebration, as other team members grilled and joked with him. Animal Control Officer Joseph Brooks was also in the hot seat — when he decided he was going to retire from the bloodhound team after 11 years, Graham decided it was his time to step aside, too.
  “We were the last of the old guard, but the guys before me wouldn’t call us the old guard,” Graham said. “I wanted to turn it over to a new generation.”
  Stepping into the command role as co-commanders are deputies Heather Clary, the team’s first female commander, and Alex Rhodes, whose father served on the team alongside Graham. Graham and Brooks aren’t retiring as officers, but Brooks said handling these dogs is a job for younger deputies.
  “It takes a toll on you, a toll on your body,” he said. “You get dragged around by a dog, stumbling and tripping in holes, wearing pounds and pounds of gear. It’s a young man’s game.”
  The hounds that Graham and Brooks built closest relationships with are no longer on the team, dogs such as Red, Ruby and Blue. Some of their remains sit in urns, wrapped in their service collars on shelves in the kennels, surrounded by photos, newspaper cutouts and framed letters showing the storied history of each dog. Buford is the oldest bloodhound still on the team, with Duke, Sam and Riley representing the newest batch of dogs.
  “It’s a new generation of dogs, they need a new generation of handlers,” Brooks said.
  Their tracking calls blur together after so many years, but Brooks distinctly remembered helping another county’s sheriff track a missing woman. Deputies had searched her house and surrounding areas, but when Greenwood’s team got on the scene, Brooks said he walked into the house and saw the elderly woman’s socked feet dangling out from under the bed. The local deputy who searched the house missed that she was hiding under the bed.
  “My most memorable call was with Red, looking for this missing 5-year-old,” Graham said. “I’m telling you, it was like Red was in a different gear. Like he knew it was a child that went missing.”
  They found the boy in the woods, arms outstretched for help — it was an early call in Graham’s career that helped him understand how dedicated these dogs are to their search.
  Clary and Rhodes gave Graham and Brooks each an engraved, glass plaque, commemorating their years of service. Graham assured them that retirement wouldn’t stop him from being there for them if they ever need help.
  “I’ll admit, this is not what I had planned when I joined the dog team,” said Clary. “But they had openings, and I needed more to do around here.”
  Clary spent more than five years with the Lexington County Sheriff’s Office, three of those in crime scene investigations. She joined Greenwood County in 2017 to be closer to home in Saluda, and she said she’s excited to take on this new responsibility.
  Rhodes has been in the bloodhound team for a year and a half, and he said he’s thrilled by the chance to carry the team’s legacy forward.
  “My dad did it. I used to run out here with him in high school,” he said. “I’m definitely excited about it. A little nervous, yeah, but more excited than anything.”
  As the deputies finished their cheeseburgers and grabbed homemade cupcakes to celebrate, they shared stories and memories. Don’t put Sam and Riley together with Scarlet — they’ll team up and annoy her. When Red went home with Graham, he was so accustomed to the noise of the kennels that he barked nonstop. Some dogs are biters, and you have to know how to rein them in to keep them under control.
  It was clear after decades with these dogs, this was one piece of work Graham and Brooks couldn’t help but take home with them.

Saluda Man Dies In
Laurens County Wreck

  One person is dead after a single-vehicle crash on Hwy. 39 near Cross Hill around 7:20am on Sat. morning, May 1, according to Trooper Joe Hovis.
  The Laurens County Coroner’s Office has identified the victim as 22-year-old Dakota James McKinney of Saluda, SC.
  The victim was driving a 2011 Kia south on Hwy. 39 when they ran off the right side of the road, overcorrected and ran off the left side of the road, hitting several trees.
  Hovis said the victim was not wearing a seatbelt, was entrapped in the vehicle and had to be mechanically extricated. The victim died at the scene, according to Hovis.