“Want to go to work?” handler Angela Alexander asked her bloodhound Grace.
Grace simply wagged her tail in anticipation.
Alexander and Grace, a 2-1/2-year-old registered full-blooded red bloodhound, have trained together for about two years in search and rescue scenarios. The pair located their first missing person in April.
When not training, Alexander works as a Murfreesboro Police officer. She first learned about the skills of a bloodhound about three years ago when a bloodhound smelled a missing woman’s hairbrush and tried to locate her.
“I saw that and was so absolutely amazed I had to get one,” Alexander said.
Patsy Hargis, a noted Rutherford County bloodhound search and rescue trainer, helped Alexander find Grace.
“She’s been the most comical and goofy dog I’ve ever had,” Alexander described with a laugh. “They’re not like TV shows. They are strong and have their own mind.”
But yet Grace is amazing at the way she can scent people.
Hargis trained them initially before Alexander joined the National Police Bloodhound Association where she obtains regular training.
Denny Guzlas, former head of the K-9 unit of the DuPage County Sheriff’s Office near Chicago, has trained Alexander and Grace for about one and a half years as an instructor with the association. He now lives in Silver Point, and trains with the team frequently.
“Angela is very dependable,” Guzlas said. “She is an absolutely perfect student, like a sponge, soaking up every word.”
Guzlas admires her for paying all the training costs, including two national seminars.
“You’ve got to admire her for being determined to take her hard-earned money to take to break into something,” Guzlas said.
Alexander is available as a “valuable commodity” to search for missing people. Her goal is to be available for law enforcement to search for suspects during criminal situations.
It should be comforting for the community to know Alexander and Grace will search for missing loved ones, such as an Alzheimer’s patient who may have wandered away during inclement weather. Using a bloodhound shortens the search rather than deploying hundreds of people who may look in the wrong direction.
“We want everyone to be safe,” Guzlas said.
After two years, Alexander is comfortable with her level of ability and Grace’s.
So when a police officer notified her about a missing man late Saturday, April 4 in Maury County, Alexander and Grace responded early Sunday morning. She learned the man’s last known contact was Friday night. He left a suicide message and took a handgun with him. Family members found where he tied his horse.
Dog teams and the Maury County Sheriff’s Office searched for the man Saturday but couldn’t find him.
“I collected a pillowcase from his bedroom and I took Grace to where they found his horse tied to the tree,” Alexander recalled. “I scented Grace from the pillowcase and we probably went one-fourth mile beside the Duck River and located his body about 30 feet down an embankment. He took his own life.”
While the call didn’t have the happy ending, locating the man gave closure to the family.
She was proud because Grace “did what she was supposed to” in a real situation.
In mid-April, the pair searched for a woman missing in Putnam County. Through her training, Grace told Alexander the woman was not at her home and no trails led away from the house. The woman was located later.
Grace and Alexander train all day once a week.
During a demonstration last week at Barfield Crescent Park, fellow bloodhound owner Brad Rayls posed as a missing man. He tossed down a hammer and walked about 100 yards away. A group of men tossed Frisbees nearby and children played in a playground nearby.
Alexander allowed Grace to smell the hammer and she took off running. Grace approached the men with the Frisbees for a moment, then quickly turned toward Rayls. When she playfully jumped on him, he rewarded her with Vienna sausages.
Bloodhounds are trained to ignore other people and follow only the scent even though the area may be contaminated with the smells of other people.
“She’s not going to follow someone else,” Alexander said. “It’s amazing. She finds a certain person you assign them to find.”
Grace has to have a scent to search.
Photographer D. Patrick Harding, who helps Alexander train, said Grace has located people by smelling items a person has touched such as shotgun shells, a rock, cell phones, car seats, hats or a quarter.
Through the National Police Bloodhound Association, Alexander and Grace have undergone one week of specialized training. In one scenario of a hotel robbery, the robber leaned up against the counter. Alexander placed a gauze pad over the spot for five minutes and placed the pad in a Ziploc bag.
Grace smelled the counter top and bag, turned in one direction through the hotel, out the door and down a few roads until she located the robber.
The bloodhound located people by smelling a windowsill and a locked car.
“I’ve scented Grace off breath,” Alexander said, explaining she had someone blow into a plastic bag and closed it. She opened it to allow Grace to smell it and locate the person.
To test Grace on older scents, fellow Murfreesboro Police Officer Chrystal Price and her daughter, Brianna, laid a trail Wednesday where Brianna walked into a house, out the back door, past a horse barn and into a field. When people walk, their skin emits skin rafts allowing bloodhounds to follow the scent.
Alexander gave Grace the scent of a T-shirt of Brianna’s Sunday and had Brianna hide in a wooded area.
“She did extremely well,” Alexander said. “She worked through dogs, cats and horses. She picked up the trail and went to the gate of the corral to let me know that’s where she went in. She located Brianna among the trees.”
With the bloodhounds, handlers must know their dog. For example, if Grace’s tail is moderately up, she’s working. If she loses a scent, she will stop and pick her head up.
“When we get close, she pulls really hard on the lead and her tail starts to wag,” Alexander said. “Her body language is very different.”
She’ll jump on adults she finds but she’s gentler with children and doesn’t bite.
Because Alexander owns Grace, the officer doesn’t work under the colors of Murfreesboro Police Department when she responds to a search. She works with the association and doesn’t charge for any search.
Alexander hopes she and Grace will be called when needed to search for missing children and adults in the community. She hopes to do presentations with Grace for children during the summer.
Why does she spend so much time and expense on Grace?
“Because I love animals,” Alexander explained simply. “Knowing the capabilities of a bloodhound, if she can save a child or anybody, everything will be worth it. It’s something I can give back to my community.”
Lisa Marchesoni may be reached at 869-0814 or at email@example.com.