Belgian Malinois search dogs work with area law to track missing people


Jason Browne



Kathy Doty, owner of GTR K-9 Search Team and Kennels in Columbus, revealed a rather macabre method she uses to train her Belgian Malinois (pronounced mal-in-wa) search dogs, Wednesday at the Kiwanis Club''s monthly meeting.


"I use pulled teeth for training, hair and bones. Or I''ll get my blood drawn," Doty told the club.


GTR K-9 works with law enforcement officials to track down missing persons, but often the search is for a cadaver. Thus, Doty trains her dogs to search for all manner of body parts.



The training could take the form of Doty throwing a single tooth into her gravel driveway and having a dog sniff it out. Or she may deposit blood in a body of water, because blood is usually what dogs are searching for in the case of a water recovery.


"(Law enforcement) will call me after a boat accident or a drowning. The dogs smell for blood or organs," said Doty.


And yes, she does use human organs for training purposes when she can get her hands on them. Give her a call if you have your tonsils removed.


It''s not pretty, but Doty''s methods achieve results. Her dogs have tracked down people missing as short as one day up to as long as 23 years.


GTR K-9 was used recently in the search for Kaila Morris, who went missing from her Lowndes County home Sept. 17, 2009.


"We have worked that case very actively and so far we''ve come up with nothing," said Doty.


What her dogs have done is eliminate certain areas from the investigation by confirming no human remains exist there. In one unspecified area Doty''s dogs were behaving strangely and she suggested bloodhounds, which have a stronger sense of scent but aren''t as agile or as durable the Belgian Malinois, be brought to the scene. But the bloodhounds also acted strangely.


Since the dogs failed to locate any concrete evidence, Doty hypothesized the dogs were sensing either a Native American burial ground or an unmarked Civil War cemetery.


Doty trains her five dogs meticulously in specialty areas such as trail tracking or air tracking, but they''re not infallible. A used pillowcase or dirty shirt passed from hand to hand before being put in front of a dog bears the scent of every person who has handled the item as well as the person being sought.


For this reason, Doty is asking for a little help. If you''re planning a camping trip with your children, for instance, and want to prepare for the worst, have your children sleep in a T-shirt, but don''t touch it before or after they put it on. In the morning, have the child place the clothing in a large zip-lock bag and seal it. This keeps the item untainted, which will help in the event of a search. Also keep track of any medications a missing person is taking as they can affect the person''s scent.


Through her website,, Doty is also promoting proactive steps children can follow if they find themselves lost and alone in the wilderness. The first step is to simply pick a spot and stay there.


The second step is a method known as Hug-A-Tree, which works exactly how it sounds. Doty says a tree in moist weather works like a candle wick. When a human touches a tree for an extended period of time their scent travels up the trunk and is released into the air. If a missing child hugs a tree, not only does it keep them stationary, it helps dogs specially trained to follow scents in the air pick up the trail.


Another simple, yet potentially annoying, method for keeping track of a child is to give them a whistle.


Doty loves her dogs and she loves helping people, but she doesn''t make a lot of money doing it. To keep her nonprofit afloat she breeds one of her dog annually and sells the litter for $950 per puppy.


A recent litter produced two outstanding pups Doty is keeping for herself which have already begun her two-year training program. Doty keeps the dogs isolated from other dogs and humans to ensure they''re singularly focused on her and their task when the time comes. When they''re out on a job, Doty says her dogs will ignore everyone except her, seeking her approval and the reward of a tennis ball.


"I teach focus and obedience," said Doty.


Doty also evaluates dogs for homeland security. During a recent evaluation, she said just one of nine cadaver dogs passed her criteria. But she says those dogs can return to training and try again.





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