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July 10, 2013

Meet Hurley and Huda, the Real Heroes

RCR Car Chief's Bloodhounds Are More Than Your Average Pets

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It is a hot, humid North Carolina summer evening at Triad Park near Winston-Salem, N.C. Hurley and Huda, Richard Childress Racing (RCR) car chief Darin Nestlerode and wife Paula’s bloodhounds, wait patiently in the back of an air conditioned pickup truck bed that sits in the parking lot. Today’s trip is only a weekly training exercise, but they don’t know that. The beautiful, reddish-brown dogs are just waiting for the opportunity to be strapped into a custom-made tracking harness meaning only one thing; it’s time to go to work.

“This is only a training exercise where the dogs will be given a smell from a scent article and then track the strategic path put down by one of the trainers who has traveled through multiple terrains including: asphalt, grass, fields and wooded areas,” said Darin Nestlerode, an employee of RCR since 2000 and the car chief on the No. 31 Chevrolet SS of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Jeff Burton. “When these dogs get strapped in, watch out, because they know it is go time.”

Hurley and Huda are more than just your basic house pets that would make the trip to the local hardware store or tag along on a backwoods hunting expedition. These amazing bloodhounds are a part of the Triad Bloodhounds search and rescue team which consists of multiple area K-9s that are trained to successfully follow scent trails for many hours and even several days assisting local authorities in search and rescue missions.

“The human body is like a giant salt shaker so when a person walks, their skin cells leave a scent trail,” said Darin. “As long as we have a scent article, the dogs can get started on a trail and give local authorities a general direction that the missing person has traveled recently.”

In most instances, the dogs are looking for a missing person, but the weekly training they receive also prepares them for cadaver detection and water recovery situations. Bloodhounds use their ability to smell during investigations and depend on their handlers to help avoid distractions and obstacles, which are common in high-traffic urban areas where most searches take place.

“They don’t really use their eyesight in these searches so we need to be close by to make them aware of their surroundings,” said Paula Nestlerode. “The time it takes to complete different missions varies on many different factors, and we as the handlers have to be prepared for anything. The overall process is very technical and the training is just as important to us as it is to the dogs. The local authorities and we, as handlers, must learn to trust the dog at all times, even when it seems like all is lost. We train them so frequently that we understand when one of them has lost a track or when we are getting close to the missing person.”

“The goal is always to find the person you are searching for and the success rate is surprisingly high, but even if we can give the police a general direction, we consider it a win,” added Darin. “In the end, if we can find who we are looking for, it’s comparable to winning a race - just a great feeling of accomplishment. These animals amaze me more and more every day.”

While Darin and Paula got into the search and rescue business by accident, their passion for their dogs is showcased in the fact that they volunteer and are on-call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year at no cost to the requesting agency. The team depends on donations and fundraisers for financial support and with some local organizations getting involved, Triad Bloodhounds has been able to purchase equipment that is utilized in unique terrains on specific missions.

“Most people think that we are paid by the local Sheriff department to come and complete these searches, but that isn’t true,” explained Paula. “We sort of got into this by accident, but now it is a very intense, costly hobby and we are always looking for support in any way. We have been fortunate of the support we have received so far, but there are different pieces of equipment out there that if we had, it would only increase the chances of completing our search and rescue missions in rough terrain.”

Triad Bloodhounds is a 501(c)3 tax deductible non-profit organization. For more information on the search and rescue team, please visit www.triadbloodhound.org.

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