One of Kathy Doty’s dogs, a Belgian Malinois, searches through debris in Louisville following a tornado there last month. Doty operates the non-profit GTR K9 Search Team in Lowndes County. Photo by: Courtesy photo
May 19, 2014 11:31:26 AM
Late last month, when the tornadoes cut across Louisville and took 10 lives, Kathy Doty loaded up her canine partners and drove toward the destruction to help find the missing.
Doty, who lives in Lowndes County, has operated the non-profit GTR K9 Search Team for nearly 15 years. She and her dogs -- they are all Belgian Malinoises -- have worked hundreds of cases, among them murders, drownings, cold cases, missing persons, robberies, suicides and many weather-related disasters.
Doty has three active Belgian Malinoises today.
"They are my partners," she said.
They are Lakota, who is 10; RIP, who is 4; and Nea, who is 3. Doty took all three to Louisville. They stayed for three days, combing through debris. They found human remains. Then, they came back to Lowndes County.
"When I leave, it is a heavy weight on my chest emotionally," Doty said. "It is hard. But it's the dog that pulls me through it, because the dog is not emotional. It is always wanting to play with its toy. In the end, it's my uplift. That, and knowing we brought closure to a family."
Doty's dogs are trained in HRD, or "human remains detection." She gets them when they are about eight weeks old and begins training them immediately. Nearly every morning and evening, they spend two hours training.
Doty and her husband own Biddy Saw Works on Highway 69 in Columbus. But before Doty heads to the office, she is up with her dogs by 6:30 a.m.
"I feed, clean and train," she said. "Everyday is a training process."
Most of the training centers around odor detection. Sometimes, Doty will put a tooth or human bone out (people donate them), or a bloody piece of gauze, or a used Band-Aid, and have her dogs locate them on her property. Belgian Malinoises are very active dogs with work ethics that do not quit. All Doty has to say is "check" or "find," and ears go up and the dogs come to attention and begin trying to locate.
Doty only works cases by invitation from law enforcement officials or fire departments. She typically works alongside Columbus Fire & Rescue, which has a Golden Retriever air scent rescue dog named Dillon.
Each year Doty's dogs are certified by the United States Police Canine Association.
"In our eyes, every single call is a crime scene," she said. "That's how it should be treated ... I want to get it right."
They work, on average, six cases a year.
"It seems like in the spring and in the fall, that's when we get most of our call-outs," she said.
Doty has always loved dogs. Her cell phone ring tone is a dog barking. Her Belgian Malinoises stay in a climate-controlled kennel. She views the GTR K9 Search Team as a tool that is offered to the community.
"It's always something that has been in my heart," she said, adding that after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, "it really hit home with me."
Last week, when Doty sat in her office talking about the GTR K9 Search Team, scratches were visible on her arms. They were from the debris she and her dogs worked in Louisville. It was a tough scene to work. But, she said, "I'd do it again."
Lakota, who has arthritis, is probably going to retire this year. Doty plans on replacing her with an 8-week-old puppy.
She said she will likely name him either Tyler or Tucker, in memory of Tyler Tucker, the 8-year-old who died in the Louisville tornado.
For more information on GTR K9 Search Team go to gtrbelgianmalinois.com.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.
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