Yannuzzi and Patriot: Bringing Home the Missing

Yannuzzi and Patriot: Bringing Home the Missing
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office’s Anthony Yannuzzi and K9 Patriot, a tracking bloodhound.

By the time local news stations began reporting that an 11-year-old child was missing, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office (JSO) Officer Anthony Yannuzzi and his tracking bloodhound K9, Patriot, were already on the hunt.

“When we arrived, the child’s scent was already over an hour old. Once K9 Patriot was given the scent, he took off and trailed for more than half a mile. He found the child between two cars,” Yannuzzi said.

Officer Yannuzzi and K9 Patriot are the department’s full-time canine tracking team, on call 24/7. They respond to missing person calls: children, senior citizens, other missing or suicidal persons, those with dementia, autism, mental illness, or who are otherwise incapacitated or at-risk.

K9 Patriot is the only single-purpose, scent-discriminate bloodhound at JSO. That means that K9 Patriot specializes solely and exclusively in tracking or trailing, unlike some other law enforcement canines that may be trained for two tasks. Yannuzzi said that his partner was born to track the missing.

“Even as a puppy weighing 10 pounds, he barrelled right through the thick brush like a wrecking ball on the scent; he never needed any prompting. Now at two years old, he goes crazy on the scent and is so stubborn. He’s like a heat-seeking missile and does not stop,” Yannuzzi said.

K9 Patriot’s unusual backstory includes an unintended arrival in Santa Rosa County, Florida, when two police bloodhounds managed to do more than track missing persons. Copper, the female, turned up pregnant and delivered 12 puppies. The department sent a message to all Florida sheriff’s departments explaining their unexpected situation and offering a free bloodhound puppy. JSO responded.

On January 17, 2022, K9 Patriot, eight weeks old, arrived in Jacksonville. JSO Sgt. Charlie Byrd took the puppy home to live with him. Byrd immediately began training the newest recruit to earn his certification as a tracker and trailing K9. Byrd said that the training process to locate missing persons is complex, but the puppy caught on immediately. K9 Patriot earned his certifications at six months old and completed seven missions during his first months on the job.

“K9 Patriot’s parents, Copper and Champ, were great trackers who had found 50 or 60 runaways,” said Yannuzzi. “One of his brothers works in Nassau County, and the other siblings work all over Florida.”

As Sgt. Byrd planned his retirement during 2023, he chose Yannuzzi from five applicants to become K9 Patriot’s handler and complete the extensive training. It was a difficult transition for Byrd to say goodbye to his partner, but he and Yannuzzi made a pact: Byrd has open visitation with his favorite bloodhound.

Officer Anthony Yannuzzi and K9 Patriot deploy by helicopter.
Officer Anthony Yannuzzi and K9 Patriot deploy by helicopter.

When K9 Patriot is off duty, he lives with Yannuzzi, enjoying an everyday dog life and daily fun with the family’s other three dogs. Although bloodhounds are born trackers, Yannuzzi said they must learn to discriminate between scents to track and locate a missing person. He compared K9 Patriot to a professional athlete who requires daily training to maintain physical conditioning and hone skills.

Scent-discrimination is the ability of the trained tracking canine to locate and follow one scent. The canine is given an article of clothing or an object, such as a key fob, that belonged to the missing person. When the person’s scent is given to the canine, the dog ignores all other scents and locks onto the trail left behind by the missing person.

The physical terrain and location of the trail left by the missing person are contributing factors in every tracking mission. Out in the woods or a rural area, there may only be one human scent for the canine to follow, versus a highly populated city with hundreds of competing scents. Weather or other conditions may contaminate, alter or disturb the trail, making the canine’s job more difficult.

The time that has passed since the missing person left the trail is another critical factor. K9 Patriot has found missing persons on trails up to seven hours old, including trails that hundreds of other people and animals may have walked on, contaminating the scent. Tracking canines learn to stay on the scent despite any conditions: other people, wildlife, domestic animals, vehicles, garbage, birds and countless competing odors, some of which may be strong or overwhelming.

Even if a person has been missing for 20 hours or more, or the search location is a highly contaminated area, K9 Patriot can still assist. He can at least indicate a direction of travel to the search teams, such as “this way on Baymeadows,” Yannuzzi said.

“These dogs serve a critical purpose. If officers had to search for missing persons or runaways in a grid, it would take a massive manpower effort and energy, requiring a huge grid and valuable time, which is so important in these cases. The canines can accomplish a search so much more quickly,” Yannuzzi explained.

To help speed response time and better assist missing or endangered persons in an emergency, JSO also urges families to utilize Duval County’s new, free, voluntary Registry for Endangered, Vulnerable, or Missing Persons (REVAMP) by visiting jaxready.com/REVAMP or calling (904) 255-3172. Individuals can be registered if they have cognitive or memory impairment, sensory disabilities or other challenges that make them vulnerable if they are missing or lost.

The REVAMP registry records critical information that aids in emergency search-and-rescue efforts, like recent photographs, frequently visited locations, known medical conditions, communication needs and other vital details. The secure registry was created by the City of Jacksonville Emergency Preparedness Division, in partnership with the JSO and Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department (JFRD).

Free First Responder Awareness Stickers are also available. These stickers can be placed on a home entrance or vehicle window to alert responders to the presence of individuals with special needs or impairments. Family or caregivers may request three stickers per qualifying individual by calling Jacksonville’s Missing Persons Unit at (904) 255-3172 or Jax Ready/City of Jacksonville Emergency Preparedness Department at (904) 255-2712. Stickers are also available from the JFRD.

JSO Officer Christian Hancock, who assists with public information, reminds citizens not to approach police canines; the dogs are on-duty and working. While K9 Patriot is social and does tracking demonstrations for children, Hancock advises that all dogs have distinct personalities, and some may be unfriendly to strangers.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News

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