Linda Boles enjoys some time with one of her bloodhounds
Elaine Bamford and Ed Youngblood
Special to the Chronicle
Visiting with Linda Boles on her serene property in Crystal River, it’s quite easy for one to see the passion she has for her animals. Eight bloodhounds lay happily around their play area that includes access to a pool, which they frequently use to cool off. For shelter, they have a newly built 30-by-45-foot kennel, half of which has air conditioning and heat.
For Linda Boles, co-founder and president of Find-M’ Friends, serving her dogs — and her community — is a way of life.
Linda grew up in Citrus County, graduated from Crystal River High School with volleyball and softball scholarships, and ended up contracting with the government in security work. With two top-secret clearances, she traveled to Russia, Finland, Germany, Mexico and other far-flung locations, but decided to settle back home in Citrus.
In 2004, she joined a local bloodhound group and acquired her own dog. That was all it took for her to get hooked on the loveable beasts.
“This all began with four friends and an idea,” Boles said. Linda, Bridget Didsbury, Shelly Mayes and Jean Harms — also bloodhound lovers — founded a nonprofit corporation and all served on its board. They are dedicated to raising and training scent discriminating
bloodhounds to assist law enforcement with search and rescue. While their service is most frequently used by the Citrus County Sheriff ’s Office, they have also taken their dogs to other Florida counties, and even out of state.
Their search-and-rescue assistance involves elders with dementia, autistic children, the mentally ill and young children for which wandering and going missing is an ever-present danger. For example, six in 10 people with dementia will wander away at some point, and 50 percent of autistic children will go missing before the age of 18. When this happens, every minute counts because the likelihood of finding the person alive or uninjured goes down with each passing hour.
Linda and her canines have been involved in many Citrus County searches, one of the most notable of which took place earlier this year when a man with Alzheimer’s from Black Diamond wandered and became lost. Luckily, his wife had a human scent preservation
kit with her husband’s unique scent. After a full search went on for more than an hour, when Linda arrived with one of her hounds, the man was found hiding nearby in bushes within five minutes!
This success resulted in the Black Diamond Foundation providing Find-M’ Friends a grant to purchase a thousand scent kits to be distributed for free to families caring for individuals with dementia in Citrus County. For this project, Find-M’ Friends partners with Coping with Dementia LLC, working through community centers and elder care facilities.
Scent Kits are a special sterile, double-wall jar in which one — with the use of a sterile pad — can preserve the unique and uncontaminated scent of a loved one. Properly used, this jar will retain the scent for up to seven years. The kits can be acquired
for less than $10, providing the cheapest insurance one can obtain to safeguard a loved one who is at risk of wandering away.
The success in Citrus County for using bloodhounds and scent kits has stirred up so much interest that Linda and Crime Prevention Deputy Nancy Suto have been called to neighboring counties to assist in setting up similar programs. In addition, Find-M’ Friends has donated a fully trained bloodhound, Ally, to the CCSO where she is handled by Deputy Chris Dearden.
“It’s amazing to see the difference between what bloodhounds are able to do compared to our German Shepherds in terms of tracking,” Dearden said. “Bloodhounds are able to pick up a scent after a major time delay, like 12 and even 24 hours after someone goes missing. They can stay on that scent over various terrains, like hard surfaces, deep woods, grass ... it’s really astonishing to
see. Plus, bloodhounds are ‘scent specific,’ meaning, they can lead us through highly congested areas, like a park, and still stay focused on one scent only.”
Bloodhounds can also save a lot of taxpayers’ dollars. A full-on search using cars, ATVs, teams of deputies and even helicopters can cost a lot of money. Every minute a bloodhound is able to reduce the search time required is a cost-saving and in the public interest.
While bloodhounds are classified as working dogs, some of Linda’s also double as show dogs. They travel with her to schools, assisted living facilities and other locations to help promote an understanding of and broader use of scent kits. In this role, they never fail to make a hit since it is the nature of the breed to be social and love people.
The soft-spoken Boles is the kind of woman who is quick to give credit where credit is due. “If it were not for the outpouring of support of Citrus County residents and organizations,” she said, “our program would be dead in the water.”
In addition to the Black Diamond grant, Boles notes that Find-M’Friends’ new state-of-the art kennel was made possible by donations from the Citrus County American Kennel Club and Martha Scherer of Citrus County, a lover of the bloodhound breed. Just recently, the Sheriff’s Office gifted Find-M’ Friends a decommissioned animal control truck that will enable Boles to transport six dogs at a time, rather than two.
Otherwise, Find-M’ Friends is totally funded by donations. These donations cover care of the dogs, purchasing puppies to be trained and gifted to other law enforcement agencies and search-and-rescue handlers; and most importantly purchasing more scent preservation kits.
“We give many kits to people for free,” Boles said, “but we do ask for a donation. It just helps cover our costs.”
Alzheimer’s is not just an abstraction for Linda, nor a condition that she has studied from afar. Her father Frank succumbed to the disease in May of this year. Characteristic of her dedication, the next morning she was speaking at a health care industry meeting about her experience with scent kits and bloodhounds for search and rescue. Her goal, she said, is to “spread this program throughout the nation.” She also said she hopes that a scent kit will become a routine part of Child ID kits through school systems.
The name of Linda’s organization comes from her sharp command to “Find M,” once her dog is given the scent of the missing
With a smile and a sparkle in her eye, she said, “Once the command is given, it’s a rollercoaster ride. We are off, adrenaline rushing.
“A dog on the scent doesn’t wander around. It runs, and I try to keep up, and we never know if success is at hand.”
Then the smile faded and she became pensive: “But it’s so fulfilling when you find that person... it really is beyond words.”