ESCONDIDO: Specialized dogs ready to help in Dubois case

Two highly trained East Coast search dogs have joined the effort to find missing Escondido teen Amber Dubois.

Jack, a German shorthaired pointer, and Quincy, a yellow Labrador retriever, will be searching this week for any trace of the bookish 14-year-old who vanished more than six months ago on her way to class at Escondido High School.

The canines and their trainers, who said the animals can track a person's scent months after a disappearance, were introduced to the media Wednesday at a news conference outside the Escondido Police Department.

Desperate to find any sign of his daughter, Moe Dubois said he was grateful the Brewer, Maine-based VK9 Scent Specific Search Recovery offered its services.

"It means the world to me," he said, standing near the two dogs, who remained calm as a dozen news cameras captured their every pant. "Any support that our family can get is great."

The handlers, Julie Jones and Sarah Platts, said they will work closely with Escondido police during the search that could go on for several days.

"Basically, what we're here to do is to help the Escondido Police Department generate leads and help find Amber," Platts said, holding onto the pointer, Jack, an 8-year-old with white spots and patches of chocolate brown.

Platts said the dogs are trained to home in on a specific person's scent through a "scent elimination" process. Essentially, she said, the dogs are provided with a missing person's clothing and other possessions. They are then introduced to all other family members who may have touched the item, allowing the dogs to determine which scent, or person, is missing.

The dogs were trained as puppies and have worked cases most of their lives, their handlers said. Quincy is 5 years old, said Jones.

Jones and Platts said they have worked hundreds of missing-persons cases with highly trained dogs during their 15 years and eight years, respectively, in the profession.

The women volunteer their efforts, but charge for travel and lodging expenses, Platts said. Amber's maternal grandmother, Sheila Welch of Paramount, spearheaded this effort and helped finance it, family members said.

This is the first time the service has worked in California, the handlers said.

Over eight years, Platts said she's worked more than 100 missing-person cases in other parts of the country, and "more times than not" has been able to help law enforcement in some way with their case. She said that might include giving police "a new avenue" to explore in search of either a victim or suspect.

Sgt. Don Parker, who coordinates the Sheriff's Department's search and rescue team, said he's not aware of any canines in the state that are able to do what Jack and Quincy are said to do.

He declined to estimate how successful the dogs might be.

"I don't want to speculate on that," he said. "The most important thing is that Amber is found."

Lt. Bob Benton, an Escondido police spokesman, said the department is "open to everything and anything" that might help solve the case.

On its Web site, VK9 Scent Specific Search Recovery lists numerous testimonials from law enforcement agencies in North Carolina and Virginia about the group's success.

Few developments in the case have resulted after months of police investigation and thousands of volunteer hours distributing fliers and searching local canyons and roads for the teen.

"We want answers," said family spokeswoman Michelle Bart. "We don't have any right now. The family is at a loss. We have no evidence to show any abduction.

"We're hoping that Quincy and Jack, the canines, will be able to point us to that direction and bring us some solid answers so we can bring Amber home."

Anyone with information about the Amber Dubois case is asked to call Escondido police at 760-743-8477. More information about VK9 Scent Specific Search Recovery is available at www.vk9sar.org.

Call staff writer Chris Nichols at 760-740-5426.

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