LEWISTOWN - Brian Baker got involved with training search and rescue dogs after he got lost while bear hunting.
Brian's wife Kellie said Brian made it out of the woods on his own during the incident in 2000 but search and rescue workers were called to help find him. After the incident, Brian became very interested in search and rescue; he wanted to help lost kids or hunters, she added.
So he got a bloodhound.
Brian Baker and his bloodhound Abby pose for a picture. Abby died of cancer recently after serving the community as a specially trained search and rescue dog.
Abby was the Burnham man's first dog, a companion that arrived in March 2006 from a breeder in Texas when she was 9 weeks old.
The dog was born to hunt and at 19 weeks old, Abby had her first bust.
Abby went on to have more than a dozen finds, became deputized by Mifflin County Regional Police and worked with a SWAT team from State College twice, Kellie said.
But sadly, Abby was stricken with cancer in her spleen and lymph nodes when she was only 7 1/2 years old. Abby died June 24.
Abby had a stunning track record and on numerous occasions left people speechless with her talent.
Brian and Abby would help local emergency responders and law enforcement whenever duty called. Kellie said the duo helped at incidents at Raystown Lake, Penn State University and all over Mifflin and the surrounding counties. They would also do demonstrations with Mifflin County Kops 4 Kids starting in 2007.
K4K started more than 10 years ago and about 30 kids participate every year.
Travis Reik, who works with the Mifflin County Correctional Facility, said he has known Brian for the past few years due to his experience with K4K.
Brian would bring Abby to Kish Park to do demonstrations for the kids. Reik said the kids' were just as amazed as the adult staff that were there.
"The first time I met her I was 100 percent amazed." Reik said, "Some of the stuff that he was doing, I was standing there with my jaw open."
Reik described an incident where Brian had a girl blow up a balloon and then had the girl zig-zag through the park and hide somewhere. He said Abby would be distracted by the kids and then Brian would bring out her search vest and her focus would change.
"When he breaks out the vest, she gets serious. She knows it's time to work," Reik said.
Brian put it on and introduced Abby to the air from inside the balloon and she went with it, Reik stated. Brian runs with Abby on a leash about 30 to 40 feet behind her, Reik said.
Sure enough, Abby found the girl without a problem.
Reik recalled another impressive demonstration. Brian had a boy hold a paper towel for a few minutes and then Brian burned it in a new coffee can and put the lid on it. Reik said a member of MCRPD would then take the boy in the police vehicle to the other side of the park.
Reik said this demonstration also simulates a child getting lured into a car.
Brian would let Abby sniff the ashes and she could pick up the scent, Reik said. Abby made it to where the boy was picked up by the police car and then walked in a circle, he added.
Reik said Abby then followed the scent along the path the vehicle took all the way to where the police officer and the boy were parked.
Kellie also had a few stories about Abby and she said the dog picked up scents from single strands of hair, fingernails, a snowball and candy wrappers.
Kellie spoke of an incident where a man robbed a store and used a bicycle to get away. She said Abby picked up the scent of the thief where he picked up the bike from the ground. Abby followed the scent right to his front door, she added.
It was difficult to escape the dog's talent. Kellie said Abby had successfully followed scents for four or five miles.
Reik said he was most impressed by Abby when she found two people who shot a parked car with paintballs in 2011 while they drove through Reedsville. Brian was called to see if he could help find the guys who did it. Reik said it was late at night, raining and they were in a car so the idea of picking up a scent was slim.
Reik said Brian wiped the paint off the car with a rag and let Abby pick up the scent. Abby immediately started walking through Reedsville and wound up at the front door of the people who did it, Reik said. The gun was seized and the suspects admitted that they shot the car while driving, Reik added.
And even though Abby is gone, her legacy as a master search and rescue dog will live on.
On July 11 Brian received a new bloodhound puppy and he named her Bella. Bella was bred only for search and rescue and came from a breeder in Arkansas.
"She's doing great. She is really into it like Abby was." Kellie said, "It makes it a lot easier for the handler because if the dog isn't interested, you have a lot more on your plate to do."
Kellie said to successfully train a bloodhound, the dog must be worked consistently for all its life. From the sounds of things, the new dog, like Abby, is on the right track.
"Bella, she's following right in her footsteps," Kellie said.