Police bloodhounds practice catching the scent of the missing

08:20 AM PST on Wednesday, January 13, 2010
By JOHN ASBURY
The Press-Enterprise

MOUNTAIN CENTER - Inga gets the scent from a pair of gloves.

With her nose to the ground, the slobbery, floppy eared bloodhound then runs vigorously through knee-high brush, finally ending up at the fugitive decoy, hiding behind a tree several hundred yards away.

Inga is one of three bloodhounds used by the Riverside County Sheriff's Department to do everything from finding missing children to hunting down murder suspects.

The hounds gathered last week in Mountain Center in Garner Valley, southeast of Idyllwild, for the first nationally-sanctioned bloodhound training seminar in the western U.S. The training session hosted by Riverside County Sheriff Stanley Sniff and the Los Angeles Police Department, featured teams from the city of Murrieta, Riverside County, and from Oregon, Connecticut and Utah. There were also teams from Germany and Singapore.

"The dogs don't know if they're searching for a missing child or a felon," said Sheriff's Sgt. Coby Webb. "All they know is at the end, they're going to get a cookie."

Previously, the bloodhounds were trained at seminars primarily located on the east coast. This session marks the first seminar hosted by the National Police Bloodhound Association, an organization that is recognized by criminal courts.

Doug Myers still credits Webb's bloodhound Maggie, with solving his mother's murder. Geraldine Myers, 81, was attacked at her Riverside home on Mother's Day, 2001. Her body was never recovered. A second woman was raped and attacked more than a month later.

Maggie took the scent off a crumpled envelope found at the home.

Less than two hours later, Maggie pointed investigators to the front door of Bailey Lamar Jackson. That scent trail proved to be the key evidence that led to Jackson's conviction.

"I never would think it could come down to a dog's testimony," Myers said. "I hope this can help someone else. You can't keep looking over your shoulder."

The Inland climate and much of the West pose a challenge for the dogs, due to the dry climate that can quickly mask a scent and dry out a dog's wet nose. More humid climates on the east coast can hold a scent longer than the arid Inland region where it may dissipate in a few hours.

Bloodhounds are trained differently than other police dogs in that they'll never attack a suspect and only lead detectives to the target. At times bloodhounds can gather a scent from as little as a footprint.

"It's harder for the bloodhound to track. They can do it, they just need a fresher scent," Webb said. "If it's aged a couple days, it really hinders our investigation."

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