Sam, D.C.’s new bloodhound, on the trail of missing people

August 29, 2013

D.C. police officials admit that their newest recruit is not particularly bright. He’s also lazy, often found sleeping in a patrol car. Still, police have high hopes for Sam, because when they do put him on a case, he’s proving to be as relentless as, well, what he is: a bloodhound.

Sam, a 16-month-old hound from Huntsville, Ala., joined the force Aug. 14 and already has helped lead police to two missing people, Chief Cathy L. Lanier said at a news conference Thursday to announce his arrival.

Each week, five or six people — some elderly and suffering from dementia, some very young — are reported missing in the city, and it will be Sam’s job to find them. Police are counting on him to track scents in busy neighborhoods.

“They are singularly focused on scent, which is great for an urban environment,” Lanier said. “He’s kind of the detective of the canine world.”

Police deploy 41 other dogs to track suspects and search for weapons, explosives and drugs. They use a variety of breeds — including German shepherds and Labradors — but none has the same skill set as Sam, the department’s first bloodhound.

Sam is about two feet tall and 79 pounds with a light brown coat, drooping and drooling jowls, light eyes and a fantastic nose.

In his first case Saturday, Sam followed the scent of a missing man for about three blocks. When he reached a bus stop, he had information to report to his handler, Sgt. Johnnie Walter. Sam jumped up and pawed at Walter’s chest.

“I told the detective, ‘From what he’s showing me, the subject got on a bus,’ ” Walter recalled. “Sure enough, they found him the next day all the way across the city, where he had been riding the bus.”

On his second case, a missing man had a 12-hour head start on Sam. Still, the hound followed the man’s scent for two miles to a recreation center.

“The detective said, ‘I can’t believe this — this is a favorite hangout of his,’ ” Walter recalled.

Sam even led police to a bleacher seat where the missing man liked to watch basketball. The track continued for three-quarters of a mile and onto a path, where the man was found, police said.

Officers will welcome having Sam at the ready.

When Michael Kingsbury, a 7-year-old with autism, went missing in July, police enlisted the help of bloodhounds from Montgomery County police. The boy later was found dead in a car. Prince George’s County police have three bloodhounds — Justice, Bella and Tayaut.

Sam does have shortcomings, such as heavy drooling, loud howling and a reputation for a subpar IQ, Lanier acknowledges.

“They are good smellers,” she said, “but not extremely smart.”

Walter joked: “I’ve taught him to sit — that’s about it.”

But he sniffs for his supper, and his nose is 8,000 times more powerful than a human’s, Lanier said. That makes the math simple for Sam’s $8,000 price tag.

Ever since he was 8 weeks old, Sam has been training to work in urban environments, Lanier said.

Bloodhounds can find a trail that is days or weeks old and can track for several miles.

Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.

Clarence Williams is the night police reporter for The Washington Post and has spent the better part of 13 years standing next to crime scene tape, riding in police cars or waking officials in the middle of night to gather information about breaking news in and around Washington.
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