The Metropolitan Police Department's newest member has a nose for detective work — just watch out for his drool.
Sam, the department's first-ever bloodhound, joined the canine unit this month and is expected to help officers track missing people over long distances.
Police Chief Cathy L. Lanier said the 2-year-old dog's strong sense of smell will be especially helpful in locating missing children or adults with illnesses, such as dementia.
"Sam can follow a scent that is several days, even weeks, old. He can follow a scent of a person once he's on the scent whether other people have traversed that path or not," Chief Lanier said Thursday as she introduced Sam to a gaggle of reporters. "It's pretty advanced capability for us. We do have other dogs that can track, but nothing like what Sam can do."
An animal lover with several dogs of her own, Chief Lanier beamed as she showed off Sam's tracking ability — hiding in a courtyard at police headquarters until the dog sniffed her out within a minute or so.
Sam joins 41 other canines employed by the department, but he is the only bloodhound and the only dog trained solely to track humans. The rest of the canine team — a mix of German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois and Labradors — have other specialties such as detecting firearms, explosives, drugs or human remains.
The department purchased Sam for $8,000 from canine trainers Sleuth Hounds LLC., based in Catlett, Va. Trainers there worked with Sam from the time he was an 8-week-old puppy, and once the department committed to buying the dog they also instructed his handler, veteran canine officer Sgt. Johnnie Walter.
Sgt. Walter, who has been on the canine team for five years, was quickly able to put Sam to work. Less than two weeks since Sam's first day at work on Aug. 14, he already has helped locate two critical missing persons, Chief Lanier said.
In one instance, Sgt. Walter said the dog successfully tracked a man who disappeared from his home. He led detectives 2 miles from the home to a recreation center that was the man's "favorite hangout" and eventually located the man about a mile from the center.
In the other case, Sam followed the scent of a missing person until it abruptly ended and was able to signal the end of the trail by placing his front paws on Sgt. Walter's chest. Police were eventually able to find the person on a bus that had left from the area.
"Because Johnnie had prepared so much, he was literally able to take the dog the first day and start to work cases," Sleuth Hounds co-owner Marshall Thielen said.
Chief Lanier said dogs like Sam typically work for about nine to 10 years before retiring from police work. But with the dog's good looks and sociable personality, she thinks he could also make a good mascot and expects to show him off at events around the city.
But, as a word of warning, Chief Lanier cautioned people who approach Sam about one of his less attractive traits.
"These dogs, when they shake their heads, spit goes everywhere," she said.
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