Lindy Schaffer strolled past the Ben Franklin store, the Video Den and a pizza place in the bustling Leesburg strip mall. She slipped behind the buildings and crouched between two overflowing trash bins.
Nearly 60 hours later, Loudoun County Sheriff's Deputy Terry Davis and his partner, Hope, set out to find her hiding place.
Davis shared one clue, a cigarette Schaffer had smoked, with his black-and-tan partner. "Track," he commanded the bloodhound. "Where'd she go?"
Without hesitation, Hope led her master past the same stores. She ignored cars whizzing past, a woman at a pay phone and some teens outside the pizza parlor. Six minutes later, the dog pushed aside a piece of cardboard and happily jumped on Schaffer, who had returned to the spot.
"I would follow this dog anywhere," Davis said of Hope, his four-legged partner of nine years. "I've done this for so [long], but it still amazes me."
The exercise was part of a week-long bloodhound training seminar in Loudoun, highlighting the amazing ability of the breed to track scents by the microscopic flakes of skin humans constantly shed. The annual event, sponsored by the Virginia Bloodhound Search and Rescue Association, attracted handlers from across the country.
Bloodhounds, used for centuries as hunting dogs in Europe, have among the best noses in the canine world. Even so, police are more likely to keep shepherds or Labradors that can be trained to track, attack or find drugs. Among local law enforcement agencies, only the Loudoun sheriff's office and the Maryland State Police keep bloodhounds.
Appearances also work against the baggy-cheeked dogs. "They're not a popular police dog because they don't look like a police dog," Davis said.
But their drooly mouths, droopy faces and sad eyes are part of the charm for handlers who attended this week's seminar. About 30 hounds followed trails through a three-tier parking garage in Leesburg, Middleburg's main street and even a cemetery.
A dog lover who raised beagles for rabbit hunting as a boy, Davis, 48, served in the military and the Front Royal and Manassas Park police departments before coming to Loudoun in 1980.
Between patrol shifts, he bought and trained his first bloodhound, Rusty, then approached his bosses in Loudoun. "I've got something we could use," he told them.
The department reluctantly accepted Rusty. Now "when people see me it's always 'Where's the dog?' " he said.
Over the years, Davis and Hope, Rusty's successor, have traveled throughout Virginia and into neighboring states to help locate missing people. A few years ago they tracked down an elderly woman who had wandered away from her home in Bluemont. They also were responsible for the rescue of a West Virginia man with Alzheimer's who had crouched in a ditch for 2 1/2 days.
Although weather conditions and man-made forces such as auto emissions make it tougher for the hounds, the dogs have been known to follow weeks-old trails with such intensity that they ram into cars parked in their path. Bloodhounds usually work silently and greet their quarry with a friendly jump.
Despite Hollywood images, it's not easy to distract a bloodhound, handlers say. "That whole thing about running through the creek and throwing the scent off?" Bunk, said Sharon Allen, 40, a Seattle-area search and rescuer who came to the seminar with her hound, Scout. Bloodhounds are often aided by water, which, even if it's moving, can retain a person's skin flakes and oil, she said.
And that bit about sprinkling pepper on the trail to throw them off? Davis tried it once. "The dog . . . ate it all and kept tracking," he said.
Hounds have located missing people and fugitives just from the scent left on pillow cases, cigarette packs and tooth brushes, handlers said. Schaffer and her husband, Jim, who live in Milton, Pa., recently worked the case of a young boy suspected of setting fires. After the youth came in for questioning, police dismantled the cloth-back chair he'd sat on and took it to the crime scene. The couple's dog, Nancy, took one sniff and led police down three blocks, over two and right to the boy's front door, she said.
"As soon as they get the scent, their tails go down and they're off," Schaffer said. "It's like they're saying, 'I know where I'm going. You just hang on.' "
CAPTION: Todd Saunders pursues a trail with his bloodhound Jeb. Bloodhounds, used for centuries as hunting dogs in Europe, have among the best noses in the canine world.
CAPTION: Saunders and Jeb share a bonding moment. Among local law enforcement agencies, only the Loudoun sheriff's office and the Maryland State Police keep bloodhounds.
CAPTION: Patti Means, of Red Rose K-9 Search and Rescue in Strasburg, Pa., works on a training exercise with her 10-month-old bloodhound Beauregard.