Greensburg bloodhound team celebrates 50 years
The Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department bloodhound team has been on the scent for 50 years.
The late chief Ed Hutchinson founded the team in 1969, and it’s been part of search-and-rescue operations ever since.
“I think the biggest thing here is saving lives,” said team commander Lou Battistella.
Battistella has been on the team 26 years. He owns two bloodhounds: Delphi and Darcy.
His daughter, Elysia, is in the family business — she’s a bloodhound handler like her dad, and handles Darcy on searches.
Eight handlers and six of the team’s seven dogs recently returned from the National Police Bloodhound Association’s 40-hour training and certification seminar in Maryland, which they attend annually.
Only members of law enforcement are allowed to attend, which is why the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department’s bloodhound handlers are all deputized by the Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Office.
The highly trained team is in high demand. They’ve traveled to Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland to help with searches.
Sometimes, they’re looking for missing children. Other times, they’re after armed fugitives.
“That’s a stressful time for all of us,” said handler David Jackson, who works with his dog Lucy.
Lucy knows when it’s time to work, he said.
“She just gets hyped up, and she’s ready to work when we get there,” he said.
When they’re not on the hunt, the dogs live with their handlers, who are responsible for establishing a relationship with their dogs and making the commitment to spend time with their animals to train them and ensure their health.
“The bloodhound is a very noble breed, it’s a strong breed,” Battistella said. “They’re smart.”
Many dog trainers prioritize obedience, but bloodhound handlers prize independence.
“We want them to work on their own,” Battistella said. “They’re on a lead out in front of the handler, and we want them to make decisions out in front.”
That can make them tricky to work with sometimes.
“We don’t tell a bloodhound to do something, we ask a bloodhound to do it, and maybe they do it,” Battistella said.
He’s owned other bloodhounds before Delphi and Darcy. His first was named Dixie. The breed only lives about 10 years, and it’s never easy to say goodbye.
“It’s the most devastating thing that’s ever happened to me,” Battistella said. “I’ve lost five now, and it doesn’t get much easier.”
He’s thought about giving up raising bloodhounds, and the many hours of training that goes into it, but he comes coming back Battistella said.
He does it for the joy of having the dogs around, and for the moments when he and his dogs can help the helpless.
“Those are the good memories, finding lost people,” he said.
Megan Tomasic is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 724-850-1203, [email protected] or via Twitter .