The Orange County Sheriff’s Department welcomed a couple of new employees on March 20. But instead of a swearing-in ceremony, the happy pair was greeted with cuddles and head scratches.
Rodin, an 18-month-old yellow Labrador, and Lucy, an 8-week-old bloodhound, made their way around the front of the OCSD’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin with their new handlers.
Rodin, who was donated to the department by the nonprofit Guide Dogs for the Blind, is the agency’s first comfort dog and will be accompanying OCSD Chaplain Sharon Genton in her work with the agency and community.
“His job primarily will be to receive pets,” said Chief Chaplain Kathleen Kooiman.
Big-eared and big-pawed Lucy, who could be seen alternately trotting along playfully with Rodin – and veteran bloodhound, Reese, and cadaver dog, Cinder, who also were on scene — and being carried by her handler, Reserve Deputy Ryan Glover, was full of puppy energy and curiosity.
She’s the third bloodhound member of the Search and Rescue Team, joining Reese and bloodhound puppy, Remi, who came on in December. This is Glover’s second bloodhound for the team. Sadie, 10, passed away last August.
The bloodhounds are used to find missing children and adults as well as criminals.
“It’s just another tool in the toolbox,” Glover said.
Having just picked up Lucy the night before (she was flown in from New York), Glover said initially he would be working on getting some socialization work in before jumping into scent-work training. Training will generally last about a year.
“We start them as soon as we get them,” he said of training.
Bloodhound Team Leader Reserve Sgt. Brenda Ortiz, who handles 8-year-old Reese, said the bloodhounds get requested a little under a hundred times a year. Ninety-eight percent of their calls take place in neighborhoods and industrial areas, she said. Those may include searches for people with Alzheimer’s and mentally handicapped adults, as well as criminals that fled the scene.
“If we get called in a timely manner, then we have a pretty good success rate,” she said, adding that success is measured by verification that they were on the right scent trail. “Anything that helps the investigation and assists in finding the person would be a success in our eyes.”
Kooiman said the chaplain unit had wanted to get a comfort dog to assist in stressful situations for some time now. Rodin will be taken to debriefings following incidents such as officer-involved shootings, to any traumatic situations chaplains are dispatched to and OCSD community events.
“Wherever you find the chaplains, you will find Sharon and Rodin,” said Kooiman.
A series of events allowed for Rodin’s donation to the agency by Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Alex Fong, a reserve deputy with the OCSD, also works with the nonprofit. He’d worked with Rodin to help him with a behavioral issue known as “garbage mouth” that had to be resolved before he could be sent out to become a guide dog. After ingesting some socks, which ended up requiring surgery, Rodin wasn’t able to continue in that line of work.
“Because of that last incident, he was what is called ‘career-changed,’” Fong said, adding that it means he would go to assist in a different function – such as working with a diabetic.
But because Fong knew the chaplains were looking for a comfort dog, “everything worked out,” he said.
Kooiman describes Rodin as “an answered prayer.”
Genton, who said she feels privileged to be Rodin’s handler, said dogs have an intuition for when people are in need of support.
She said that in their short time together, they’d already bonded.
“It’s just such a blessing,” she said.