BROWNSTOWN — The Jackson County Fairgrounds draws thousands of people during the fourth week of July each year for the county’s biggest event — the fair.
It’s also the home of Brownstown Speedway, which can draw thousands of racing enthusiasts to watch some pretty fine dirt track racing.
A much smaller group of people spent a day training their dogs “finding those that can’t be found” at the fairgrounds.
That’s the motto for the North Star International K-9 Training Association.
“We’re using the Jackson County Fairgrounds this year, and we’re really excited because it’s one of the biggest areas we’ve been able to secure,” said Marylyn Adams, a co-founder and director of the association.
Adams said she has had her eye on the idea of using the Jackson County Fairgrounds for training for about three years and was able to finally contact a board member to find out how to get approval to do so.
A recent multi-day seminar also included a second day of training at Mill Race Park in Columbus and classes at Lakeview Ministries near Waymansville.
Two different types of K-9 training were conducted at the fairgrounds. The first was a trailing dog session for dogs that track down missing people, such as lost hunters or hikers, by following their scent. The second was a human remains detection session.
The association provides its services free of charge to search for missing people in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky at the request of law enforcement.
“We typically don’t do criminal (searches),” Adams said. “These people are all volunteers. They put all their money into this, and it’s not a cheap hobby. Some of these dogs are rescues, but a lot of these dogs cost between $2,000 and $2,500.”
Unlike police dogs, search and rescue dogs aren’t aggressive and don’t bite, she said.
North Star is an Indiana nonprofit, although Adams lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, near the border with Indiana. The 10-year-old organization conducts a seminar at Lakeview in the fall and returns for a spring seminar each year.
“Next spring, we’re going to try to do people tracking where people track people,” she said. “We’re bringing in Fernando Moreira from Utah, and he is a world-renowned tracking instructor. We had him in July in Cincinnati. We’re trying to get him back.”
She said the seminars draw people from all over the country.
“We’re a nationally known organization,” she said.
During trailing dog training sessions, the dog gets the scent of a trail-laying person from a gauze pad, the trailer layer goes off and hides and the dog tracks them down.
“It’s called scent specific,” Adams said.
North Star provides the instructors for the seminar, and they also are doing that work on their own time.
“They are not paid to be here,” she said.
She said almost all of the handlers have bloodhounds. She brought a bloodhound and her golden retriever along for training.
Kelly McDaniel with Lapeer County Search and Rescue put her border collie, Daisy, through a trailing session that ended with a successful conclusion when she found trail layer Deanna Seitner outside the fairgrounds office.
A few minutes before finding Seitner, Daisy came across the wrong trail layer in a livestock pen in a nearby building, but McDaniel took the blame for that misstep.
“I actually gave my praise prior to her indication because I got too excited,” McDaniel said. “Her indication is setting, so she found a person, looked at her but didn’t set. Of course, I did my ‘Yay’ and she thought she was supposed to sit.”
Daisy then went back on the hunt and found the Seitner, who also is a trainer, just a minute or so later.
“That’s normal life,” trainer Casandra Ulbrich said. “That’s why we train.”
McDaniel said if Daisy had not found the trail layer hiding in the livestock barn, she is confident Daisy would have found the correct one just minutes later.
Ulbrich, who is a trainer and a member of Wolverine State Search and Rescue just outside of Detroit, Michigan, said the fairgrounds provided a great place to conduct training because it’s rural in nature and far different than training in an urban setting.
It was windy the day of the training session, but dogs trailing a specific scent are not thrown off track too far by weather conditions and the scent of other people and things, Ulbrich said.
“The dogs are just looking for one specific scent,” she said.
Brownstown Speedway could have been full of fans as it was just a week or two earlier and the training sessions would have gone well for the same reason, she added.
McDaniel’s husband, Jim McDaniel, said tracking people is especially satisfying when people are reunited with a lost loved one, but sometimes, unfortunately, the best the search efforts can do is give the family closure. He joined his wife, Ulbrich and Kat Tomaszewski with Alpena Search and Rescue in northeastern Michigan during Daisy’s successful search, and three or four people are normal for such a search.
He said Lapeer County Search and Rescue has been called out about nine or 10 times this year, but training is important, too.
About North Star International K-9 Training Association
The goal of the unit is to provide professional level K9 search and recovery services in the tri state areas of Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky. We provide highly trained individuals to assist law enforcement and other first responder entities in their effort to locate the lost and missing. Members of the unit are volunteers. Search and Recovery is a diverse effort requiring a diverse group of volunteers who are dedicated to helping people.