TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (CAPITOL NEWS SERVICE) - Each year the Florida Missing Children’s Day ceremony honors a bloodhound team for recovering a child, but a little known four-day event following the ceremony pits bloodhounds and handlers from around the country against each other.
Nine-year-old Jimmy Ryce was abducted then murdered just about a mile away from his family’s home in 1995.
“Mrs. Ryce believed that if there had been a bloodhound on scene, that Jimmy's life may have been saved,” said Steve Feaster, Lead Trainer of the Bloodhound Scent Tracking School at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy.
A year later the family began the Jimmy Ryce Foundation.
It breeds, trains, and donates bloodhounds to law enforcement across the country.
This year, 19 bloodhounds and their handlers participate in a training course held at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy outside of the state’s capital.
More than half of the K-9s are Ryce dogs.
Deputy T.K. Graves started her career in Manatee County soon after the Ryce tragedy. She and her Ryce dog ‘Nellie’ now track down missing persons in Michigan.
“It's just been a wonderful opportunity to bring that up to Michigan and be part of a team and share what these bloodhounds can do and share the Jimmy Ryce tragedy and what good can come out of that,” said Graves.
While some of the handlers were directly inspired to begin their work with bloodhounds after the murder of Jimmy Ryce, others have reasons that hit even closer to home.
Teresa Cummings is the trailing coordinator for the North Carolina K-9 Emergency Response Team.
“When my son was 23 months old, he went missing in the wilderness for two days,” said Cummings.
Her son was found alive, but like the Ryce family, she felt a tracking dog would have brought her son home sooner.
“We had a happy ending, which we always try to,” said Cummings. "And that's our goal, is to bring them back alive, but we at least want to bring them back one way or the other.”
The teams from North Carolina say they’ve already been activated to help with the response to Hurricane Florence.
The training program is in its 12th year.
Last year’s class was canceled due to Hurricane Irma.