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‘Red’ alert: New Lenox fire district boasts bloodhound

Red bloodhound was rescued from shelter by New Lenox firefighters became rescue. He tracked down missing 10-year-old New Lenox girl

Red the bloodhound was rescued from a shelter by New Lenox firefighters and became a rescue. He tracked down a missing 10-year-old New Lenox girl recently. | Susan DeMar Lafferty~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 27, 2013 6:04AM



When a 10-year-old autistic girl was reported missing in recent days, Red found her as quickly as it took him to walk the three blocks from her family’s New Lenox home to her hiding spot.

All he needed was a whiff of the T-shirt she had slept in the night before, and he put his wrinkled face to the ground and followed her scent, leading rescuers to a brushy area just blocks away.

The New Lenox firehouse bloodhound was just doing what he does best.

“He certainly makes search-and-rescue missions a lot easier,” New Lenox Fire Protection District Firefighter Greg Gaj, one of Red’s handlers, said.

Red himself was rescued by New Lenox firefighters who brought him from a shelter to live at one of its four fire stations.

He is the only search-and-rescue hound in Illinois who lives at a fire station, and maybe only one of a few in the country, Fire Chief Jon Mead said.

Most are kept by police departments, including the Cook County sheriff’s and Joliet Police departments, Gaj said.

“When they said they wanted a dog, I told them it has to do something, not just lay around,” Mead said. Red had to meet all three shifts of firefighters who are on duty at the station before he could be adopted by them.

“He was rescued and he became a rescuer,” the chief said. “One dog can do the work of 100 people.”

As firefighters searched for a dog, when they found this 1-year-old bloodhound already named Red, it seemed the perfect match. He was real skinny when he first came to live with the firefighters, but now is a proud, healthy, laid-back dog who loves to hang out on the picnic tables in the firehouse parking lot, and occasionally finishes their food if they forget to cage him before leaving on a call.

“A search-and-rescue dog goes with our mission,” he said. “A bloodhound is perfect for that.”

Gaj and fellow firefighter/paramedic Frank Hasik — both dog lovers — volunteered to be Red’s handlers. A third firefighter, Ryan Mallary, is in training, so one of his handlers will be available 24 hours a day.

“It seemed like a cool thing to do,” Hasik said.

Red and his handlers are certified by the National Police Bloodhound Association and are to travel to New York every May for a 40-hour certification course. Red also trains every other week with other bloodhounds from neighboring police departments, and for about an hour a day at the fire station.

Red is laid-back until you tell him it is time to go to work, then he gets fired up.

“When his harness is put on him, he knows it’s time,” Gaj said. “He’s a slow-moving dog, so he doesn’t miss much.”

As Gaj and Hasik have learned, bloodhounds are the perfect hunting dogs. Red’s olfactory system is “a million times better than a human,” Gaj said. His long ears help sweep up the smells as he wrinkles up his face to trap the odors, and keeps his nose to the ground, as Red demonstrated by tracking a visitor to the fire station.

As handlers, they watch to see which way he is going. When he gets close to his target, he gets real excited.

This “gentle giant” is called to duty about once or twice a month.

He has tracked down a burglary suspect, found a drunken driver who ran from a vehicle crash and into a cornfield, and traced a missing teen who left an underage drinking party and hopped a train. Red traced the teen’s scent to the train station, and authorities apprehended the teen when he arrived at Union Station in downtown Chicago, Gaj said.

“Everybody sheds skin cells. Every person leaves a trail,” Gaj said. Red has had advanced training, in which he has learned to trail in water, too.

Around the firehouse, he’s been the perfect pet, protecting his turf and barking when strangers approach.

He loves attention and socializes well with children.

When the tones and sirens go off, he knows it’s time to get in his cage.

When not in training, Red might be digging a hole, eating or more typically sleeping, firefighters said.

He makes the rounds at night, getting petted and hugged by everyone on duty, but is partial to his handlers, often greeting them when they return from a call.

“He’s a great stress reliever, with a goofy face that you just love,” Hasik said. “He’s been a real good dog for us. We got lucky.”

The community has embraced Red as well, welcoming him into the schools. The Doggie Salon has provided free grooming and Carey Animal Clinic offers vet services at greatly reduced rates, Hasik said.

“We’re happy to have him,” said Mead, the fire chief. Finding that little 10-year-old girl was one of Red’s best assignments. “It was a great outcome,” he said.

“He is the perfect firehouse dog,” Lt. Dennis Randolph said. “If we could just get rid of the drool.”



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