Cass County Sheriff’s Office welcomes new bloodhound

CASSOPOLIS — The Cass County Sheriff’s Office’s newest employee always keeps her nose to the grindstone, walks on all fours and will do just about anything for a treat.

The Cass County Sheriff’s Office recently added four-month-old bloodhound Britton to its team. Specially bred to trail and find missing persons, the puppy joins the department’s current bloodhound, Nellie, who is 7 years old. According to handler Deputy Tiffany Graves, when she is fully trained, Britton’s primary job will be to find missing persons and foster positive community relations.

The Jimmy Ryce Center for victims of predatory abduction donated the bloodhound puppy at no cost from Bluegrass Bloodhounds in Kentucky.

“Bloodhounds are a great tool for sheriff’s offices to have,” Graves said. “They don’t catch bad guys. They are just so loving. They find people, and it’s such an amazing job.”

Graves said now was the right time to bring a new bloodhound puppy on board as the opportunity presented itself at a time that was right to begin to prepare for Nellie’s retirement in a few years. Initially, Graves, who has been in law enforcement for 32 years, planned to retire with Nellie. However, she said she believes in the program and the importance of using bloodhounds in missing persons cases so much that she decided to sign on for many more years with the department working with Britton.

“[Being a handler] is a way of life,” she said. “[Nellie] is my identity. … Everything about them is a way of life. What’s amazing about my job is that I am able to touch so many people in the community through [the dogs].”

In addition to using their superhuman noses to help bring loved ones back to their families, Graves said Nellie and Britton play another vital role for the sheriff’s office — they foster positive community relations by attending events and putting forward a friendly face.

“She’s out there bridging that gap with the community,” Graves said. “Kids and people who might be nervous about talking to the police, they are going to talk to Nellie or Britton.”

Cass County Sheriff Richard Behnke agreed that having bloodhounds has proven valuable to his department, adding that current bloodhound Nellie has been used to assist in cases in counties where law enforcement does not have a bloodhound.

“To have this tool in the toolbox is just priceless,” he said.

Britton is named after Shane Britton, the only Cass County Sheriff’s deputy to have died in the line of duty. The name was chosen after the Cass County community voted on the name from two others via social media. Britton was chosen by nearly 50 percent of those who participated in the voting.

Shane, of Marcellus, was killed on July 19, 2000, after losing control of his vehicle and crashing into a tree on M-62 in Jefferson Township while responding to a call from the Ontwa Township Police Department. Shane had served with the department for more than a year before the crash.

“We were happy to honor [Shane] in this way,” Behnke said.

Shane’s son, Luke, now an officer with the Dowagiac Police Department, said he was touched that the Cass County Sheriff’s Office chose to name their newest four-legged employee after his father.

“I really like the idea,” Luke said. “I’ve liked it since the sheriff’s office called and asked if it would be alright with our family. I feel like it keeps [Shane’s] name and legacy around.”

Shane’s family has been involved with Britton’s life beyond approving her name. Luke has been helping to train Britton by working with Graves during tracking exercises. Luke said he has enjoyed working with Britton and hopes to run several more activities with her before she completes her training.

“Hopefully, I get to keep doing that,” he said. “I hope [Britton] can shed a positive light on law enforcement and help improve the Cass County area and its relationship with law enforcement officers.”

Graves said Britton has at least another year of training ahead of her before being ready to go solo in the field. Until that day comes, Graves said she is excited to see Britton grow.

“I just hope that she continues to bring people back to their families,” Graves said. “That’s what I hope for Britton. I hope she continues to bring home missing people and that she continues to bridge that gap between the community and law enforcement.”

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