KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. (WVLT) — When law enforcement learns of a missing person, teams are deployed to search. But sometimes, boots on the ground need a nose on the ground to find them.
That’s where Barnabus and his handler Candy Stooksbury entered the picture.
Barnabus, a canine asset, has been employed by the Knoxville Police Department’s Search and Rescue Team.
“He had his first find for KPD when he was five months old,” Stooksbury said. “He found a missing 11-year-old boy.”
KPD has used their four-legged team member to find those who have been missing for days. To keep his tracking skills sharp, police began putting Barnabus through training programs that offer rewards for a job well done.
“I laid a track, so I started off on the trail heads and went up into the woods so far up a trail and into the woods, and I’ve been sitting up here for about a half hour,” Jason Artmovich, an officer with KPD, said of one training exercise.
“He trains for Oscar Meyer all beef hot dogs,” Stooksbury said. “That’s his reward.”
Barnabus has been trained to trail a person miles away, and he has been able to pick up a scent in just about any condition.
“Your scent is just like your fingerprint, there’s nobody else that smells like you,” Stooksbury said.
Barnabus’ team has helped in searches through collapsed structures and fires, as well as in more difficult water environments.
“He can pick his cadaver odor out of the burned sofa and the burned paint,” Stooksbury said. “He does water. The deepest he’s found someone is 55 feet under water.”
Working together, KPD, Barnabus and Stooksbury have made hundreds of rescues and recoveries, from missing children to the Sevier County wildfires last November.
“This is truly priceless, when you can reunite someone with a loved one or gotten someone dangerous off the streets or even with his cadaver to be able to bring closer to a family is huge,” Stooksbury said.
While Stooksbury said for Barnabus the process is “just a big game of hide and seek,” his job has been anything but a game.
“I can’t think of anything more horrifying than to have a missing family member, but you have a group of people who are trained to go find them, they’re willing. It’s three in the morning, and it’s snowing, and they’re ready to go find them, and it’s taken care of,” Stooksbury said.
Barnabus has been sent out on dangerous missions, so his relationship with his handler has required the knowledge that the dog-human partners always have each other’s backs.
“There’s a trust that has to be there, so no matter what situation we get into with a search, that I’m not going to let anything happen to him,” Stooksbury said. “He goes right in, doesn’t think anything about it and does his job.”
That attitude has also been adopted by Stooksbury, a full-time nurse. The pair began their work with police as volunteers.
“In nursing, unfortunately you are there with people on their darkest days, but you get to be that person there for them and care for them and support them,” she said. “This is just another way I get to do that.”
“Barnabus is awesome,” said Adam Willson, an officer with KPD. “Every tool we have is great, Barnabus is one of those tools that we need. I wouldn’t want to be without them.”
“Even if he just found one person, then he’s done his job, and that’s all I need, and he’s far surpassed what I could have ever expected him to accomplish,” Stooksbury said.
As one of the few trained search and rescue canine teams in the region, Barnabus and Stooksbury have ventured out on missions as far away as Kentucky, North Carolina and just outside of Nashville.