New program to help Houston County missing person searches

New program to help Houston County missing person searches
In a missing person’s case, time is of the essence.

HOUSTON CO., AL (WSFA) - In a missing person's case, time is of the essence.

The Houston County Sheriff's Office now has more resources to help speed up the search process and they want the community to take advantage of the free program.

The Sheriff's Office has partnered with Florida based company, Find-M' Friends. The organization raises money to gift law enforcement with trained bloodhounds to assist with search efforts. Find-M' Friends donated the department's four bloodhounds in the K-9 Division: Bogart, Jeanie, Justice, and Storm.

The organization also provides law enforcement agencies with "Out of Harms Way Kits."

The kit is similar to an evidence container that can be used to help find a person who is missing. It contains a sterile pad that is wiped along a person's arms, neck, or underarms to collect their pure scent. It's preserved in a plastic container and kept at the person's home.

If the person is missing, law enforcement will let the search dog sniff the person's kit. The dog will use that pure scent to try and find the person.

"If we ever get the call When our canine or bloodhound gets on the scene we want them to be able to get started and get on the ground quick," said Houston County Sheriff Donald Valenza, "We don't want to have to try to find some type of scent we can use in the house. Time is very very critical,"

Often finding something in the house for the dog to sniff for tracking delays the search process, "Most of the time we go into a house where items are cross contaminated, so it's very difficult at times," said Linda Bowles, President of Find-M' Friends, "It saves time and gives the bloodhounds a little more of an edge to work off a pure scent,"

The sheriff says he's already working with nursing homes in Houston County to get patients, especially Dementia and Alzheimer's patients, the "Out of Harms Way Kits". The kit is available to anyone who is concerned a loved one may wander away.

The Find-M' Friends organization also caters to schools. They're working with the Citrus County School System to provide kits for kindergarten students.

In the five years Find-M' Friends has operated, the two times law enforcement used the kit during a search they've been able to find the missing person,

"The more kits you have out there, the more likely you're going to use it," said Bowles.

Bowles has been at searches where the kit helped, "We had a couple dementia patients that had wandered off. We had already had a helicopter up, boots on the ground, and patrol dogs down on the ground searching,"

Even with all those resources, no luck. Once Bowles arrived on the scene and her bloodhound used the "Out of Harm's Way Kit" the search got a major break, "we found him in minutes,"

A happy ending, Valenza wishes he could have had for two missing person searches he's had.

"I wish we had something we could have started earlier. It took us a couple days to even get where we were at and then it was too late," said Valenza.

The kits work in conjunction to Operation Lifesaver and last for at least five years. If you are interested in getting a free "Out of Harms Way Kit", contact the sheriff's office at 334.677.4882. If your loved one has special medical needs you're asked to indicate that on the kit.

If you would like to donate to the Find-M' Friends organization, you can make donations on their website.

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