INDIANAPOLIS – Tail wagging, black lab slowly walks past a dresser, a box of decorations, and an upholstered chair.
Arriving at the free-standing lamp, the dog sits down. She has sniffed out what is hidden in the lamp base.
A new building on the Hope Center Indy campus will become a site to raise dogs that are trained to sniff out electronic evidence in human trafficking and child exploitation cases.
Located at 11850 Brookville Road, just west of New Palestine and the Marion-Hancock border, the service serves women exiting human trafficking as well as some recovering from abuse or addiction. The residential facility, housed in the former Marion County Home, provides women with a safe place to receive counseling, receive more education and acquire skills that will help them transition into a better future. It’s funded by donations and grants, as well as various businesses on campus — including a boutique, salon, wedding barn, and greenhouse — which also provide opportunities for women to gain work experience.
Sara Feasel, the center’s development director, said while it works to address human trafficking, other organizations are working on rescues and law enforcement. Operation Underground Railroad is one such group. It funded the construction of the “K9 Barn” to the east of the Hope Center’s main buildings.
Crews painted rooms in the building this week. It will soon be a place where Todd Jordan can house and train Labradors to spy on electronic storage devices, which often hold evidence in human trafficking and exploitation cases but are often hidden when law enforcement arrives.
“They’re going to hide it in really tricky places,” Feasel said. “(The dogs) are capable of finding much evidence.”
The Hope Center’s first dog, Layla, was raised by a Hope Center graduate last year before spending two weeks training with her new handler. On Friday, Layla and a group of other dogs graduated before heading to their new jobs. Layla will be working for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Jordan, an Anderson firefighter and former Vernon Township fire chief, said he trained dogs to be K9 arsonists. Such dogs find “accelerators” or flammable substances like kerosene or gasoline that could be used to quickly start a large fire. But in his friendships with other police officers and firefighters, they talked about other jobs dogs could be trained for. A friend was on a task force focused on cybercrimes against children and spoke of hard-to-find evidence; Jordan said maybe you could train a dog to sniff it out.
One of Jordan’s early electronic storage detection K9s helped find evidence in the case of former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. The same dog later found evidence in the case of former gymnastics coach Marvin Sharp. When those cases came to light, “everyone noticed what the dogs were doing,” said Jordan, now the owner, program developer and head trainer of Jordan Detection K9.
For the past few years, Jordan has been bringing dogs to Hope Center’s 25-acre campus for training. He expects to train 40 dogs this year and said having the building at the center is a huge benefit, “a one stop shop”.
The future keeping of dogs on campus, including puppies for rearing, is also intended to be a therapeutic presence for residents of the center. Their arrival will also provide additional CV experience for women who want to work as veterinarians or groomers, Feasel said.
“This also offers a lot of opportunities for our residents,” she said.