On the right track: The making of a bloodhound

WELLINGTON — In a dark, empty parking lot at the far edge of the Mall at Wellington Green, a man is soaking his socked feet from a big gallon jug of water. Then he stomps around in an erratic path, leaving wet footprints on the pavement.

Wet-sock man disappears into the bushes just as a Palm Beach County sheriff's cruiser drives up.

A tall deputy opens the back door and a magnificent bloodhound springs out, wearing a black harness emblazoned with "Sheriff."

There should be superhero music.

Bolo, the 1-year-old bloodhound, is learning to be a tracker.

"He gets so excited," said his handler, deputy Paul Lennertz.

"He knows the game now. He wants to track."

Lennertz lets Bolo sniff a set of keys belonging to K-9 trainer Cpl. Chris Wolf. Rearing and straining at the leash, Bolo is off. Wolf's wet footprints are rapidly drying, but they contain just enough of his scent for Bolo to follow with certainty.

But Wolf has disappeared, forcing Bolo to find him by scent alone.

Lennertz's job is to praise the high-spirited rust-and-black dog when he stays on task and correct him before he veers off course.

They are in week seven of their six-month training. Starting on mud and grass, their tracking lessons get progressively more difficult. Bolo will gradually be expected to pick up scents after longer elapsed times, over greater distances and in all kinds of weather, mimicking real-life tracking conditions as closely as possible.

When their training is complete, they will join three other sheriff's K-9 tracking teams, which locate missing people. Tracking requests come several times a week, at times as often as once a day, according to Sgt. Mike Anderson, who heads the K-9 unit.

"He's a slobber factory," said Capt. Martin Bechtel, who heads the sheriff's District Six office west of Boynton Beach, "but he couldn't have a nicer disposition." Bolo spent a few months with Bechtel. Now the 120-pound bloodhound lives with Lennertz, the usual practice for K-9 teams.

Bolo's long ears drag on the ground as he sniffs, and the folds of his face catch and amplify scents. Once he has identified a scent pattern, Bolo's brain memorizes all its details and ignores all other distracting odors until it locates the source.

Bolo finds Wolf twice, based on his wet footprints. He balances on his hind legs, embracing Wolf with his forepaws, accepting dog treats, hugs and lavish praise that echoes across the parking lot.

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