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Lost and hound

Gorgeous Grace joins Ireland’s first trail scenting search team after being dognapped on way from America

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Grace the bloodhound poses for the camera

Grace the bloodhound poses for the camera

Grace the bloodhound poses for the camera

MEET the adorable bloodhound who has become part of Ireland’s first qualified mountain rescue, trail-scenting search dog and handler team.

Gorgeous Grace is one of a special breed of trail-scenting dogs who use an item belonging to a missing person, such as clothing, to follow the trace of smell left behind.

The dogs are trained to pursue only the scent of the missing person, while ignoring other people and smells in the area.

But cute Grace almost didn’t make it to Ireland, having ironically got ‘lost’ herself in America while en route here.

Dubliner Philip McRory has a lifelong passion for dogs and, through a relation who is involved in the Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team, became a volunteer himself.

Philip said he suggested sourcing a bloodhound to help with their work.

The 37-year-old, who is a carpenter by trade, is also a qualified Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) and among his specialities is navigating in heavy fog or pitch black conditions.

“There has never been a man-trailing dog qualified here before,” he explains. “I actually went back to college and did an EMT course and became a qualified practitioner, mainly because I wanted to qualify this dog.

“I knew if you’re out with a search dog you are going to be the first person to get to the casualty, so it’s a level of care that we can administer now which is pretty high.”

Philip, who originally hails from Portmarnock but who now lives in Swords, north Dublin, had previously been involved in breeding bulldogs and was also always interested in mountaineering.

Films

“I was involved in mountaineering through the scouts and stuff like that,” he reflects. “That is kind of what brought the two together. I kept bulldogs and I was very aware of all the American guys that kept bulldogs... some of them were bloodhounds. I started looking at these working lines of bloodhounds and reading about how they were different to the kennel club dogs and I always had an interest in them.”

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Kisses: Grace adores her proud owner Philip

Kisses: Grace adores her proud owner Philip

Kisses: Grace adores her proud owner Philip

He points out that nobody in Ireland was breeding proper bloodhounds like Grace and he decided to look for one in America, where the likes of prison-break movies like Cool Hand Luke had famously featured them.

He contacted a breeder in Kentucky, Judy Braun, and sourced bluegrass bloodhound Grace even before she was born.

“I spoke in depth with the breeder about what I was looking for and asked her to pick me out the one that she really liked and send me that one,” he recalls.

“Judy charged me $1,000 for the dog and she then took that money to pay a specialist trainer to get her searching from a really young age, so she effectively gave me the dog for free.

“Grace comes from a family of search and rescue or police man-trailing bloodhounds.”

Philip then got a company in New York to arrange for Grace to be shipped to Ireland, once she had passed the 20-week age limit for travel requirements. But during her transportation in the US she went missing for six months.

“The shipping company were giving me all sorts of excuses that ‘there is a problem with this’ and ‘we will get her out to you’ and this, that and the other,” he reveals. I was chasing them, but really, the dog was missing.

“We were at a point where myself and the breeder were at our wits’ end.

“Judy is heavily involved with law enforcement, having bred dogs for various police forces, and had a connection in the District Attorney’s office in New York, so the DA got involved and as soon as the state got involved the dog arrived in Ireland. She had been kept as a pet by someone in the shipping company. So I got her when she was a year old and she turned two in April.”

Philip financed the whole project himself, which cost him E4,000.

“Grace is exactly like the bloodhounds you’d see in Cool Hand Luke, she has that old bloodhound look with a droopy face,” he smiles. “The guards use more general purpose dogs, which would generally be German Shepherds. They do track, but they don’t trail, as they don’t use scent-specific trailing. They will look for a scent, but with Grace you can give her the specific scent of a person to look for, which is what makes her unique.

“The good thing with Grace is early intervention, about getting her in early and getting her in while the trail is fresh. You have got about 24 hours to get that dog in there before the trail is over contaminated. There is a lot of chat that they can go in a week after, two weeks after – I think that has been proven not to be reliable.

There are about 60 people on the call-out list in Dublin and Wicklow Mountain Rescue Team, and there are four people-trailing dogs, two of which are currently being trained.

“Grace is our qualified man-training dog,” he confirms. “Then we have Rowan, who is a qualified air scenting dog, so Rowan will go into a large area and work off leash and clear that area for people, but he won’t look for a specific person – so that’s kind of the difference in how he works.

“Then we have one more man-trailing dog, a German Shepherd, being trained at the moment and one more air scenting dog that’s also being trained at the moment that hasn’t qualified yet.”

Philip has got to see Grace in action for real once so far, when he got a call to help a canine search and rescue team in Northern Ireland.

He was informed a man had gone missing from a pier in Warrenpoint, Co Down, and had left behind a suitcase and a note.

Suitcase

“We arrived up about 12 hours after we got the call and used the suitcase to give Grace the scent of the guy and we started searching,” he recalls. “It was a really busy weekend afternoon, it was really contaminated.

“We started to search, a couple of minutes into the search we got a radio call to say that they had found the guy, but I felt the dog was working really well so I said ‘we will see it through’ and said ‘tell them there’s a possibility we could come into their area’ and sure enough it took her about four minutes to work through all the people, and she walked straight up to the guy, who was talking to the PSNI. He was having a bad time that day.”

Philip, who also works on the RTE renovation show Home Rescue, says many of the people he and his team search for are sadly having mental health problems.

“We are looking for people that are probably at a bad time in their life,” he sighs.

“The dog will bring you to them hopefully as quick as possible and we have got to people in the past, not with dogs, but we have gotten to people and saved them. So teaming up the dog with a medic and a mountaineer kind of separates us from the transitional lowland rescue dog.”

l Anyone affected by this article can contact the Samaritans on freephone 116123 or email jo@samaritans.ie for 24/7 emotional support.