Each spring, teams of handlers and Bloodhounds meet for a week at Allegany State Park to learn more about trailing and to practice their skills. The event, hosted by the Cattaraugus County Sheriff's Department, is the annual National Police Bloodhound Association spring seminar.
The National Police Bloodhound Association grew out of a desire for some measure of organized training for Bloodhounds and handlers. The association started in 1962 as the Eastern Police Bloodhound Association. Members of several east coast state police agencies worked together to form the organization. As Roger Titus, NPBA vice-president recalls, "It was before computers so there was lots of personal effort and travel, with days of talking and sharing ideas."
The organization quickly became national, and in 1966 the name was changed to the National Police Bloodhound Association. The NPBA now has over 150 departmental and individual members, including representatives in Canada and Belgium. In 1970, the NPBA held its first organized training seminar and has held them every year since then.
Six of the 47 teams at this year’s seminar are pictured.
Photo by Susan Ewing
Pete Otano and Ray Robertson of the Miami Dade Police Department, accompanied by instructor Doug Lowry, use Missy to follow the author’s trail.
Photo by Susan Ewing
Sydney Webb and Ruby, ready for action.
Photo by Susan Ewing
Photo by Susan Ewing
Photo by Susan Ewing
Unlike arson dogs or drug dogs, or almost any other kind of "police dog," there are no formal schools for teaching Bloodhounds to trail. That's why the NPBA holds seminars and why handlers find these seminars so valuable. The seminars teach important information about trailing and help the hound and his handler become a team.
The NPBA has been coming to Allegany State Park for the last 14 years because the area provides the perfect mix for training. The park offers wooded areas, paved paths, and streams, and nearby Bradford gives teams a chance to prefect their trailing skills in an urban setting. This year, there were 47 handler-dog teams working for their annual man trailing certification. Teams traveled from Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. There was also one student from Switzerland.
The seminar runs Sunday through Thursday and gives handlers a chance to work their dogs in practice situations, to attend lectures, and to learn from other handlers. The annual seminar is open to all law enforcement officers, as well as members of search and rescue groups.
Besides trailing, participants spend time in the classroom learning about the properties of scent, how to train for scent discrimination, armed subject/tactical trailing, emergency veterinary first aid, how to write reports and keep a trailing log, and legal review and case law. This year, there was also an optional helicopter orientation and a SWAT team demonstration.
The seminars, and handling Bloodhounds, can become a family tradition. Roger Titus, who began training dogs at Fort Benning, Georgia, for use in the Vietnam War, is the vice-president of the NPBA and the training administrator. He is retired from the Hamburg, New Jersey, police force. His grandson, Eric Bollard, is now 31 years old and has been laying trails (and attending seminars) since he was 4 years old. His daughter, Alana, is 14 and frequently attends seminars with her father and great-grandfather.
Terry Kieffer's son Brandon has followed his father's footsteps into law enforcement and dog handling and officer Doug Lowry was at Allegany with his teenaged grandson Bryse.
Elysia Battistella has been attending with seminars her father Lou Battistella since she was 14 years old. Elysia is now 30 and, while she doesn't work with a dog at her job, she still attends the NPBA seminar each spring.
This year, Sydney Webb was the youngest participant. Sydney is the 8-year-old daughter of Lieutenant Coby Webb, from Riverside California. When Coby's K-9 partner died, it was Sydney, then 5 years old, who encouraged her mother to get another Bloodhound. She promised she'd help take care of the puppy and help also with training. Coby added Bloodhound puppy Ruby to the family and Sydney kept her promise.
Three years later, Sydney is still determined to become a dog handler and still keeping her promise to take care of Ruby. At Allegany, that meant exercising the dog, cleaning up after her, and visiting the car frequently to make sure the dog was all right. Since Ruby weighs 92 pounds and Sydney tips the scales at just 53 pounds, Sydney can't handle the dog on a trail, but that doesn't stop her from keeping up with both handler and dog, when she isn't personally laying the trail for Ruby to follow.
What exactly is Ruby following when she trails a human? Well, she, or any dog, follows "scent rafts" that drift down from a person's body. Dying cells are shed from a human at an average of about 40,000 cells per minute. What a hound smells is the gas given off as bacteria work to decompose these cells. The rafts are carried down and out by the layer of air that surrounds every human.
This air is warmer and less dense than surrounding air and it creates a current that travels up the body from the feet, ending about 18 inches above the head. As the current rises, it picks up rafts of dead cells and releases them above the head. The rafts drift back and away and fall to the ground bacteria work on these rafts, producing a scent trail. The speed at which the bacteria will act on the cells is affected by temperature, humidity and wind. It is harder for a hound to follow a trail on a hot, dry, windy day than on a cooler day with a light rain falling. Moisture is needed for the bacterial action.
That moisture component is one of the things that makes Bloodhounds so efficient. They drool. All that saliva helps activate the scent. The tips of their ears are generally also wet from the saliva, and as they frame the face, they help funnel the scent towards the nose. All that loose skin tends to fall forward as a dog trails, and that, too, helps gather the scent and push it toward the dog's sensitive nose.
Dog noses are built to gather and identify different scents. For starters, dogs don't get "scent fatigue." A scent is just as strong for a dog an hour later as it was when it first smelled it. The human nose tends to "get tired." A scent we find strong and noticeable at first tends to be less evident the more we smell it.
Then there are the cilia, the tiny hair-like extensions in the lining of the nose. These gather the scent. There are 6 to 8 cilia per inch in humans and 100 to 150 per inch in dogs. The more air breathed in, the more scent gathered. Humans take in about 1.6 cubic inches of air in a breath; dogs take in 6 cubic inches or more.
Dogs also beat humans in the count of scent receptors per square inch in the nose. There are 5 to 20 million scent receptors per square inch in man, and 220 million per square inch on average in dogs. Pugs and other short-nosed breeds have fewer receptors. German Shepherd Dogs come close to the 220 million figure. Bloodhounds have about 300 million scent receptors per square inch.
The amazing Bloodhound nose means that court testimony by a Bloodhound handler, based on the dog's work, is admissible in 28 states. But, as Roger Titus says, "Any 'K-9 evidence' must always be substantiated by other investigative results. K-9 evidence does not stand alone, nor should it."
Dogs may have a better nose than humans, but it's up to the human half of the partnership to interpret findings correctly. With the help of NPBA seminars, both dog and human have a chance to perfect their skills.
LAYING A TRAIL
I had a chance to lay trails for three different Bloodhounds during the seminar. The first one was a young dog named LulaBelle, who was just 10 months old.
Lula is handled by Pat Cerio and his wife, Kim Thorp. While both have jobs in law enforcement, Kim with the Chicago police force, and Pat with the Department of Justice, they don't work with dogs at work. Rather, both are members of Search and Rescue Dogs of Illinois. Pat is Lula's primary handler. Normally, Kim handles a human remains detection dog.
Since Lula is still learning, I didn't just walk away. Instead, I took a clean sock from my waistband and shook it near Lulu's nose, all the while talking to her in a happy voice. Then I dropped the sock and went a short way into the trees, making one sharp turn, and hiding behind a tree. It didn't take Lulu long to find me, and I gave her a handful of treats as a reward, along with lots of praise.
Next I went out with a group led by instructor Dennis Guzlas. His choice of trails was a double trail. I would walk out with Elysia Battistella, then we would split up, and the dog would need to make the correct choice of which trail to follow. This time, the handler-dog team following me was Chris Nichols, with the Hamburg, New Jersey, police department, and his dog, Zoey. Zoey was given my scent, and another dog scented on an article from Elysia.
The two of us walked away, and at the road, we split up. I turned left and eventually hid behind a tree. I wasn't that far from the start of the trail and I could hear the dogs begin to bay as their harnesses were put on, the signal that they were going to work. As gentle as I know these dogs to be, I would not want to hear that sound if I were a fleeing criminal. Once the dogs started working, the baying stopped, and soon Zoey found me and accepted several hot dog pieces and a scratch behind the ears.
The third trail I laid was for Missy, a young dog handled by Pete Otano and Ray Robertson of the Miami Dade Police Department. Since this trail would be a bit more erratic, the instructor gave me a handful of blaze orange clothespins to clip to random branches. This would let the handlers know whether or not they were on the right trail. Soon enough Missy tracked me down, ending a successful exercise.
Trails vary in length and in the amount of time they are "aged," that is, the amount of time between when the runner lays the trail and when the dog is given the scent. During a seminar, runners may be given radios so they can stay in touch with the handler. The object of practice trails is to help the dog be a success so that he is always eager to search, even if the trail becomes difficult.
WHERE DO THE DOGS COME FROM?
While the handler may work for a law enforcement agency, the dog may belong to the handler, and not the agency. Either way, dogs can come from various sources. Many handlers get their dogs from breeders, and a breeder may donate the animal, or lower the price because the dog is going to be a working dog.
A Canadian breeder gave an entire litter of six puppies to Roger Titus, trusting him to raise and place the dogs as he saw fit. Eric Bollard's dog Sally Sue, and Doug Lowry's Watson are two dogs from that litter.
Many dogs also come to departments through rescue. People get cute Bloodhound puppies, then don't want the size and/or the drool of an adult Bloodhound. To quote from the Police Pocket Training Manual for Bloodhound Handlers, written and distributed by the NPBA, "It often takes a special kind of family to have a Bloodhound for a house pet. They are big, noisy animals, notorious chewers, with a tail especially adapted to clear off coffee tables! When they eat or drink, their ears hang into the food or water, then a shake of the head deposits it on floors and walls."
Some handlers get their dogs from foundations. The A.L.I.E. Foundation in Colorado donates bloodhounds to police agencies. The foundation was started by a man whose granddaughter was murdered. Bloodhounds found her four days after she was reported missing. Had a Bloodhound been available to trail her, the family believes she might have been saved.
The Jimmy Ryce Foundation in Florida was also founded after the abduction and killing of a young boy. A handler who has received a dog from the Ryce Foundation must agree go out on any missing child call.