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Heaven scent; Dogs help police in fine art of saving lives.

Byline: George Barnes

PETERSHAM -- Ray Jackson has nothing against German shepherds and other police dogs, but he offered a simple baseball analogy to explain what is different about bloodhounds.

"They're all utility players,'' he said, "but how many times do you see a utility player win the Golden Glove?''

German shepherds are trained to bite and hold suspects; they track, they sniff drugs and develop many other skills. Bloodhounds only track a scent, but Mr. Jackson said they do it better than any other animal in nature, other than pigs and possibly bears.

While most dogs can follow a scent that is hours old, bloodhounds can track a missing person weeks later.

Mr. Jackson, 62, a part-time police officer with the Phillipston Police Department, is the veteran among bloodhound handlers. He grew up in Connecticut with the dogs and, in the 1990s, started the Templeton Developmental Center bloodhound program, helping find clients who wander off into surrounding woods near the center and helping police with cases involving lost people, house break-ins and other situations.

Although Mr. Jackson did the work for years, he is just one of several trainees who are learning to handle bloodhounds purchased from fellow Phillipston Police Officer Billy Chapman. Among the others are Petersham Police Chief Dana Cooley; Robert Legare, an officer with the Petersham, Hardwick and New Braintree police departments, and Craig Deveneau from the Athol Police Department.

Officer Chapman is something of a Johnny Appleseed of bloodhounds. His dog Tessie had a litter of nine puppies on Nov. 15, which he has put in the hands of other interested officers, keeping two for himself. One will be trained by his son and another he will train as a backup to Tessie.

One of the dogs will go to the Los Angeles Police Department, receiving training here and further training with the Los Angeles officer when they meet in May at the National Police Bloodhound Association's national convention in Maryland.

By the time of the convention, all the dogs should be trained and ready to help out in any situation that requires their special skill.

Bloodhounds are not common today, but are really an old-school type police dog. Hounds have been around for thousands of years. The bloodhound breed originated in Europe as early as the 7th century. The dogs were used for hunting but have also worked with police for hundreds of years tracking fugitives and missing persons.

The breed has been in the United States since the 1800s and was registered with the American Kennel Club in 1885. In all those years the main evolutionary trait developed in bloodhounds was their exceptional sense of smell. They have a very large olfactory system, and their noses have many more scent receptors than other dogs.

"They will follow any scent,'' Mr. Chapman. "It's absolutely amazing.''

They can also discriminate by scent, picking out their target even in a large crowd.

Mr. Chapman has been working with bloodhounds for about seven years. When Mr. Jackson was chief of the Templeton Development Center's police force, he took Mr. Chaptman under his wing and taught him how to train and care for the dogs. He has become a believer in the importance of bloodhounds, which he said are not used enough in Central Massachusetts police work.

For many years, he said, the state police had bloodhounds, but they have gone almost entirely to other multi-use breeds, such as German shepherds, which are used to search for bombs, drugs and tracking suspects.

The Worcester County Sheriff's Department also had bloodhounds, but is without them at present. Mr. Chapman said the Erving and Southbridge police departments are among a few around the state that have bloodhounds.

Although locally there are few departments, Don Lowry president of the National Police Bloodhound Association said the numbers are on the rise, in part due to recent highly publicized cases, including the search for a suspect in the killings of two Pennsylvania police officers.

Mr. Lowry said economic reasons play a part in some departments deciding to use German shepherds rather than bloodhounds, because they can get two skills in one dog.

Bloodhounds are used to search for suspects in crimes that just occurred, but are especially useful when a break-in has happened a few days before the search.

Mr. Lowry said they are particularly useful in searching for children because they are not a biting dog and pose no risk when the missing person is found.

In the Petersham Fire Department parking lot Wednesday, a group of gregarious hounds gathered, playing with each other, grabbing stones and tossing them and greeting every human that came their way. The dogs included Chief Cooley's dog Bleu, Mr. Legare's dog Lucy and Mr. Jackson's dog Seamus.

Petersham is a small town with a small police department, but Chief Cooley said officers often find themselves looking for lost children or missing adults.

"We had a lost monk last year and Billy (Chapman) came in to help us,'' he said. The monk was found and bloodhounds have helped with many cases in northern Worcester County through the years, including helping crack the case of the pillowcase bandits who broke into several homes in Athol and surrounding communities, filling pillowcases they found in the houses with loot before leaving.

Chief Cooley said the dogs training with Mr. Chapman and Mr. Jackson are not a program of any police department or paid for by any department, but rather handled and trained by officers from various local departments who are willing to take on the challenge and expense.

It is hoped their dogs will be used to benefit not only 11 communities in or near the North Quabbin Region but any city or town that needs help.

Officer Chapman said the dogs are extremely friendly, but can be very stubborn even with their handlers and are entirely focused when on a track.

When they are working, they are all business. The dogs will stick to a track for miles, so focused they sometimes run headlong into trees.

Mr. Jackson said one dog followed a cold track for more than 20 miles, finding a girl in the trunk of a car.

He said the most he has done is seven miles, but the dogs are capable of much more. He said the thing he hates to hear is that a dog failed to track a scent.

He said the dogs can and will track if they are properly handled. Sometimes it takes a while, but in the end, given a chance, they will get their man.

Contact George Barnes at george.barnes@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @georgebarnesTG
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Barnes, George
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Mar 26, 2015
Words:1107
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