Ken Hanson and his wife, Pat Todd, are back home in Port Ludlow after a harrowing night that ended with Ken’s rescue by a bloodhound named Jelly. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Ken Hanson and his wife, Pat Todd, are back home in Port Ludlow after a harrowing night that ended with Ken’s rescue by a bloodhound named Jelly. (Diane Urbani de la Paz/Peninsula Daily News)

Lost hiker with limited vision rescued

Volunteeers, search dogs comb trails

PORT LUDLOW — The sun had set. Pat Todd’s husband was out there somewhere.

Ken Hanson grew up roaming the hills around his family’s Whatcom County farm. Now that he’s 77 and living in Port Ludlow, he’s been relishing two-hour forays into the forest around his home.

He and Todd, married 43 years, often go out together, but last Wednesday he set out solo.

Then Todd, realizing Hanson had been gone three hours, called him on his cellphone.

“He was lost,” he told her, “and had been trying to find his way out for a couple hours,” so as soon as he described the route where he’d started, she took off with her whistle.

Todd, 69, is an avid runner and covered 2 miles, sounding the whistle all the while.

By this time, it was getting dark, and “given his blindness, it was even darker for him,” Todd said.

Glaucoma has taken much of Hanson’s sight. He uses red and white walking sticks on the familiar trails, yet he has a penchant for exploring, Todd said.

On this day, he noticed a different trail and kept on it until he realized he had no idea how to get back. He couldn’t see his phone to use the compass on it.

As night came, Todd could still reach her husband by phone, but both of their batteries were nearly dead. Hanson told Todd he’d call 9-1-1, so she returned home and, about 6:30 p.m., dialed 9-1-1 herself.

The dispatcher had heard nothing from Hanson. His phone must have died; there was no longer a way to reach him.

“It was actively snowing and below freezing,” said Jefferson County Sheriff’s Detective Derek Allen, who got the dispatcher’s call at 6:33 Wednesday night.

From that point, Allen worked the problem. Deputy Brian Peterson and Capt. Ben Stamper, Jefferson County Search and Rescue volunteers, Port Ludlow Fire and Rescue, two ATVs and a drone were called into service.

Allen wanted more, though, in the form of search dogs.

Search and rescue partners Sheri Whetstine of Port Angeles and Jelly the bloodhound cover the North Olympic Peninsula. (Photo courtesy of Sheri Whetstine)

At the Port Ludlow fire station turned command post, the call went out to search and rescue canine organizations across the region. But it seemed none were available.

At about 10:30 p.m., there was a knock on the fire station door: Sheri Whetstine of Port Angeles with her bloodhound Jelly, asking: Where do we need to go?

As the partners set out, more volunteers showed up to join the effort, until there were seven canine search teams.

To help Jelly, Todd was asked for something of Hanson’s: an item only he had touched. His pillowcase fit the bill, so she put it in a plastic bag, which was then provided to the dog.

The search team had narrowed their focus to a part of the woods not far from Bywater Way, so out Whetstine and Jelly went. For the next two hours, they looked and listened.

“We do voice checks,” Whetstine said, “and we’ll just holler out his name, and then be quiet,” hoping for a response.

She thought she heard something. She and Jelly walked toward the sound.

“Then we heard it again. And Jelly’s getting very interested in the brush on the side of the road, and wanting to go down this hill.

“We heard the call again — it sounded like ‘Help,’ and I said, ‘Holy cow. Ken, is that you?’ ”

Jelly dove into the bushes, ran down the hill and there, at the bottom, was Hanson.

Hours ago, he’d fallen into a swamp. When Whetstine got within 10 feet of him, Hanson told her his legs were so cramped that he couldn’t move.

Whetstine sank up to her knees in the muck. It was 12:34 a.m. when she helped Hanson out of the bowl-shaped wetland. There were goose bumps, tears and a lot of canine enthusiasm.

“Once we got out of the water, Jelly was never so happy to love on a person,” Whetstine recalled in a later email to Todd.

As for the dog’s handler, “I was never so happy to be cold and wet at midnight.”

Hanson was transported to St. Michael’s Hospital in Silverdale, where he spent a few hours warming up. He and Todd got back to their house around 3:45 a.m.

“It’s good to be home,” Hanson said quietly on Tuesday.

Whetstine, Todd and Hanson are together on a key point: that the team of searchers — 30 men and women, Allen said — made this rescue happen.

The Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies had triangulated the last place where Hanson had been, so “they were able to put us in the right place,” Whetstine noted.

“I’m grateful that Ken was still strong enough to holler to us,” she added, “and I’m grateful we were there.”

Whetstine and Jelly, along with her husband Tim and his dog Moxie, are part of the Tacoma-based Northwest Bloodhound Search & Rescue, so they’re prepared to volunteer anywhere between Pierce and Clallam counties.

“When we get a call that’s around here, we’re positively giddy,” said Whetstine, who moved to Port Angeles from Arizona in 2006.

A devoted search-and-rescue volunteer, Whetstine also is a glass artist who shows her work at 1 of a Kind Art Gallery at the Port Angeles Wharf, and a medical scribe at Olympic Medical Center.

Whetstine and Jelly, who is almost 3 years old, have trained to the intermediate level of human trailing, and they keep their skills sharp by practicing at home.

“He gets tired of ‘finding’ my husband,” she joked.

Now Whetstine is looking forward to visiting Hanson and Todd in the daylight; Jelly had decided Hanson was “his human” that late night last week.

“He’s a big boy. But he’s a lover,” Whetstine said.

________

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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