The newest member of the Carroll County Sheriff's Office raised her right paw Thursday and was sworn in by the Clerk of the Circuit Court.
Katie Justia Pinkerton Star, the bloodhound puppy who began her training 10 weeks ago, will be tasked with searching for critical missing persons, criminals who fled on foot, prison escapees and other investigations, according to a news release from the sheriff's office.
"They're part of the group," DeWees said of the K-9 members of the office. "I swear them in. I give them a badge."
Katie and her handler, Deputy Kathleen Yox, trained throughout the state in different environments and terrain before being certified, according to DeWees.
Though Katie is a lovable dog who loves to meet people, DeWees said, once Yox puts on a specific harness, she is in work mode with her nose to the ground.
"When she's on the track, she's yanking my arm out of its socket," Yox said.
Katie is currently 63 pounds, but both of her parents weighed more than 100 pounds as adults, so she is expected to be big in her own right.
"I did develop some muscles through training," Yox said.
At 4 months old, Katie was the youngest bloodhound participating in the Maryland State Police training, according to Yox, and may be the youngest ever to complete it.
"She was the youngest, and I was the oldest," Yox joked. A law enforcement dog usually has a career of seven or eight years but because Katie started so young, Yox said she hopes Katie will work much longer.
Though the sheriff's office has had tracking dogs before, Katie is the first bloodhound. In the past, the dog has been a German shepherd that was also trained to take down criminal suspects.
Katie is not trained to bite or otherwise engage people once she has found them.
"A bloodhound is more likely to find you and lick you to death," DeWees said.
When tracking a potentially dangerous person, DeWees said Katie and Yox will be partnered with the Crisis Response Team — the county's SWAT team — and they will be training with those officers next. This will enable the K-9 team to back off once the person is found and tactically trained police to move in.
"There's a technique to actually searching with the dog," DeWees said.
Yox said bloodhounds are bred for tracking and the folds in their skin actually hold the scent they are looking for while their large ears waft it into their noses.
While German shepherds are trained to be "big, bad dogs," Yox described bloodhounds as the "kinder, gentler side of K-9."
Yox said Katie whines when she loses a scent.
"She definitely gets very frustrated if she comes off of a track or isn't able to figure it out," Yox said.
DeWees said Katie is a resource not only for the county, which only has one other bloodhound through the Maryland State Police, but for the state.
"I'll send that dog anywhere it's needed throughout the state," he said.
Katie was paid for using a federal grant that pays for her purchase, training, equipment and food for one year, DeWees said. The department has already spent $15,000 of the grant money.
Like all of the department dogs, Katie will receive the best food and best veterinary care.
"We don't pay them, so it's the least I can do to get them good food," DeWees said.
Katie is not the only expensive piece of sheriff's office equipment living with Yox. She is also partnered with narcotics-detecting German shepherd Garo.
"Basically, [Garo] wants to eat [Katie] at the moment, but I hope they eventually become friends," Yox said.
Yox said when she first brought Katie home, Garo was not pleased with his new roommate.
Garo, who has been Yox's K-9 partner for six years, had separation issues when Yox first began putting on her uniform and leaving with Katie to go to training.
"I told him she's not going back, she's here to stay," she said.
How Katie got her name:
Katie's full name is Katie Justia Pinkerton Star. More than 1,100 emails were sent to the Carroll County Sheriff's Office with suggestions. Here's what each part of her name means:
•Katie is for Kate Warne, the first female detective in the U.S.
•Justia is a reference to justice.
•Pinkerton is for the founder of the Pinkerton National Detective Agency.
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•Star stands for show respect, take pride, act responsible and ready to learn, suggested by a first-grade class at Elmer Wolfe Elementary School.