“Bloodhound in Blue,” by Adam David Russ. Lyons Press. $24.95.
Mike Serio’s unwavering belief and commitment to a breed’s worthiness and respectability are front and center throughout this compelling chronology.
When you think of police dogs, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labrador Retrievers come to mind first. Not Bloodhounds.
But the highly passionate Serio, a patrol officer, is convinced JJ, his young Bloodhound, has the tracking acumen to help uncover the bad guys the K9 Unit isn’t finding. In that capacity, Serio becomes a salesman for this lovingly whimsical breed known for its lick and drool power along with a plodding pace.
Russ’ characterization goes a step farther: “Bloodhounds are that goofy kid in high school whom everybody knows but who rarely gets invited to parties.”
Even when Serio and JJ are accorded a six-month trial by the Salt Lake City K9 Unit to assist, it is with the understanding that JJ is not a full-fledged member of the team and that his owner will pay for all food and veterinary care required.
The meet and greet from other K9 Unit members isn’t exactly embracing, either. More of let’s see what you bring to the table after Serio introduces JJ to them and says, “The worst thing you’ll get with JJ might be a big goober of slobber. JJ will be with me in my patrol car. Anytime there’s a crime and you don’t know where the suspect is, give me a call, and I’ll try to see if it’s a bloodhound deal.”
Hostility and frustration follows but slowly Serio and JJ begin exhibiting their mettle and collecting believers along the way. In fewer than six months, the pair has 12 criminal finds resulting in 10 arrests, earning them fulltime positions on the unit.
Russ writes, “The tension within the Salt Lake City K9 community ebbed and flowed for years to come,” with Serio believing much of the opposition was directed toward him, since he was not from Utah, was a new officer and was only 5 feet 5 inches tall,” not exactly imposing for a police officer.
The author details a wide assortment of cases the pair respond to, including the highly publicized Elizabeth Smart abduction in which he says, “JJ being pulled off the track was the first of many near misses” in the case. However, Serio and JJ begin quickly gaining fans within the department and community as they assist on numerous arrests and missing-persons cases, as well.
The premier testimony on their behalf is the eventual approval to add a second bloodhound team to the K9 department’s tight budget.
As JJ’s glossy arrest records continue to build, Serio notices the dog is experiencing trouble eating. A diagnosis reveals a malignant oral melanoma tumor, resulting in surgery and a follow-up trip to New York City for inclusion in a new trial vaccine study that eventually puts the melanoma into remission for a year.
Because of their successes on the streets of Salt Lake City, Serio and JJ become media celebrities. When word gets out about the dog’s ailment and expensive treatment regimen, donations flow in, covering virtually all of the $15,000 expenses.
The cancer returns later in JJ’s stellar eight-plus year career resulting in his euthanasia at about age 11, prompting a huge outpouring of testimonials from fellow officers, some with plenty of humor:
“I’ll always think of JJ every time I eat McDonald’s French fries. I swear he could sniff out a bag of fries in the tornado!”
“Just know that other agencies would call up and ask if JJ was on instead of just asking for a K9.”
“I’m sorry I won’t have the privilege of being slobbered on, leaned against, or licked to death one more time. He will forever remain in my heart and mind as a friend and one hell of a never-give-up cop.”
But this team‘s success is far from one-sided. Following JJ’s death, Serio moves back to the patrol division until his fellow K9 officers show an incredible outpouring of support resulting in an upbeat ending on all fronts, including a new four-legged partner.
Deeply engaging, “Bloodhound in Blue” is an inspiring lesson in hope and dedication packed with solid depth and bursting with panache around every corner.