SLED Bloodhound Tracking Team

A short history of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Bloodhound tracking team. I spent some time with them while preparing this article and was quite impressed with their abilities. I fell in love with one of the hounds but couldn’t take it home. They offered me a pup but I didn’t think my dogs would be too happy with the newcomer.  Here is the article. Hope you enjoy it and I will appreciate any comments.

 

.“Bloodhounds, a short history and the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division Tracking Team”

 

           

            Late one evening last summer, an air-scenting dog handler called a member of a Bloodhound group after searching all day for a lost elderly man in southeastern North Carolina. The man had now been missing over 72 hours and a clue had been located that day. The handler said that a Bloodhound would be a real asset to the search and one was dispatched to the scene.  The man was located alive and all ended well. The Bloodhound team located him within a mile to a mile and a half from the Point Last Seen (PLS).

Why are Bloodhound teams called in?

  • There is documentation that they have been used since the fourteenth century to track human beings.
  • Logistically efficient – one dog and one handler.
  • A Bloodhound team routinely trains on aged trails 12, 24, 48, 72, or more hours old in different environments and weather conditions.
  • Courts will accept Bloodhound team testimony without challenge if the handler has kept training records documenting the hounds experience under conditions similar to the case at hand.
  • A Bloodhound team can tell you the direction the subject took from the PLS or Last Known Point (LKP) reducing the search area; if the person got in a car; if a “clue” found a distance from the PLS belongs to the subject being tracked, and establishing a new LKP and direction of travel. A Bloodhound team can tell you if a sighting some distance away is real.
  • A Bloodhound can pick a subject out of a crowd of people.
  • A Bloodhound can detect someone from their fingerprint.
  • Bloodhounds can trail for miles, out of the immediate search area.

In residential areas or cities where human scent abounds, along with moving vehicles; a Bloodhound has only the scent of the subject to concentrate on and is usually on a lead so they can be controlled by the handler in traffic.  Bloodhounds can track on cement or asphalt.

Air-scenting dogs are not as useful in urban or congested areas as they are trained to find humans, not objects.

The modern Bloodhound has its origins in the Ardennes region of central Europe (located on the border of Belgium and France). It was there that the large game hounds of St. Hubert and Talbot and the white Southern hound were crossed to produce the dog known as the Chien de St. Hubert. Even today in some countries the terms Bloodhound and Chien de St. Hubert are interchangeable.

The first recorded use of Bloodhounds by organized law enforcement was in England in 1805 when the Thrapthon Association for the Prevention of Felons acquired a Bloodhound to search for poachers and thieves.

The mean average height of adult dogs is 26 inches, and of adult bitches is 24 inches. The greater height is usually preferred.  The mean average weight of adult dogs, in fair condition, is 90 pounds, and of adult bitches 80 pounds.

The expression of a Bloodhound is noble and dignified, and characterized by solemnity, wisdom and power.  They are extremely affectionate and sensitive to kindness or correction by their master.

Bloodhounds are not for everyone. Due to generous flews, they can sling saliva 20 feet with one shake of their head. They are friendly, often very good with children. When they find someone at the end of a trail, they are likely to lunge at them – to plant wet slobbery kisses (their specialty) all over them.  Due to their enormous size, food requirements, vet bills and inherently short lifespan they are dubious companions for the average dog-lover. A puppy will grow four to seven pounds and one-half to one inch in height per week.

Bloodhounds are very determined.  They are aggressive in the sense that they want to finish trails, and can be hard to call back once on track.

The SLED (South Carolina Law Enforcement Division) Bloodhound program began in the early 1950’s.

Quoting from “The History of the SLED Bloodhound Tracking Team”, the agSLED Bloodhound program has been one of the leading man tracking units in the nation since the early 1950’s when Chief J.P. Strom purchased a pair of Bloodhounds with money out of his own pocket.  In the beginning, a SLED agent supervised South Carolina Department of Corrections (SCDC) inmates as they trained and handled the Bloodhounds on actual calls”.

When a manhunt was necessary, agents and inmates would run a team of up to six dogs at a time off lead.  The Bloodhounds were transported to the scene in a station wagon.  By 1984, SCDC inmates were no longer used to train or handle the dogs as full-time trackers had been hired.  Shortly after Chief Strom’s death in 1988, the SLED Bloodhound Tracking Team (BHTT) was formed.

SLED Chief Robert Stewart formed a full-time academy certified tracking team consisting of 3 two man teams on call 24 hours a day. Each team member is skilled in Bloodhound handling and man tracking.  They are expert witnesses and are often called to testify in court.  Team members are also active members of the SLED SWAT team and fully trained in all SWAT practices.   Teams consist of two trackers, two dogs and a fully equipped dog wagon (SUV).

When needed, Bloodhound Assistance Teams (BAT), made up of additional SLED agents on call, assist trackers. Teams average 150 calls a year at all hours of the day or night.  Each member has a pager and cell phone and they are never more than an arms reach from their communications.

Captain George Booth is in charge of Tactical 0perations, which includes Bloodhounds, SWAT and Air. Lt. Fred R. Powell is the Supervisory Special Agent in charge of the BHTT units.

Powell is in charge of the BHTT unit and SWAT and has been with SLED for over seventeen years.  He is married with two children, a boy age 9 and daughter age 3. Powell said he was raised in the woods on a plantation in the lower part of the state.  He grew up chasing poachers and doing a little poaching in between.  He learned his tracking skills from on-the-job experience on the plantation.

As he was growing up, he realized that he wanted to be involved in law enforcement.  After completing his degree in Criminal Justice from the University of South Carolina, he joined SLED at age 22.

90% of the dogs at SLED are crossbred, breeding purebred Bloodhounds with Plott, Red Bone, Blue Tick or Healers.  Bloodhounds are silent trackers and Powell wants the dogs to be vocal.  “We want a dog that will speak up on track, most Bloodhounds don’t. Most of them are silent. That is the way they have been bred for the last many years”.

The BHTT also runs their dogs with cowbells on the harnesses so the tracker can hear where the dogs are.  Except in metropolitan or urban areas, the dogs track off leash with the tracker running behind. The current breeding program is producing quality dogs with great enthusiasm, increased barking on track, more athletic and capable of standing up to the heat and humidity of South Carolina.

All breeding is carefully documented to maintain the quality of the bloodline as well as providing records of the best dogs for the job.  Pups are started at 7 to 8 weeks and observed carefully for the desired traits.

Powell said, “By starting our dogs at 6 to 8 weeks, they are exposed to all sorts of terrain. That way there are no surprises when they grow up.  Auto horns, trees, ditches, and buildings, whatever they might run into on a track, they are exposed to as they grow. This gives us a chance to see how they are going to perform. They just don’t know any different when they get older”.

Careful breeding and training methods produce such dogs as “Gus”.

Powell says, “He’s automatic.  If he could drive a wagon, he’d take himself to the location and make the catch on his own”.  “Rock” was another great dog and a result of the careful breeding program.  By the age of 1-½ years, he had caught over 100 subjects.  During 18 calls in one month, he caught 24 suspects.  “Rock” died of a stomach torsion (where the stomach twists cutting off circulation), which is not an uncommon problem with large dogs.  Because of their size, the average life span of a Bloodhound, and other large dogs, is 8 to 11 years.

Powell said, “Now I want to be very careful about what I am saying about Bloodhounds because, obviously, Bloodhounds is the basis of what we do. The Bloodhound has the history of being a man tracker. This is a Bloodhound tracking team. You will hear negative feedback about what we are doing. Some people run nothing but a registered dog.  But once we get out there and start running them and showing what we can do, then how can you argue with it?  If it works, how can you argue with it”?

“You see a lot of the breed now that are extremely docile, they are silent on the trail. Now, they got the best nose. Without a doubt they can scent discriminate better than any other dog can. They handle that nose where they smell extremely on the trail. So, what we do is take nose and breed that kind of dog.  We cross it with Redbone, mostly Redbone that is the majority of what we cross with”.

“And what that does for us, it increases the barking, we want a dog to open up on track – they are a little more aggressive on trail – a little more enthusiastic – they also take heat a whole lot better than what a registered dog does.  A lot of registered dogs have really thick skins, thick coats and they just don’t hold up very well in our heat and humidity”.

He went on to say, “We are looking for something that we can put in the conditions that we have, the environment that we get into and to be successful doing that. The ones we have found that come out on top are that breed of dogs we are working with”.

“When we cross these dogs over like that we may end up with at least half Bloodhound; we try to have at least half, sometimes maybe three-quarters; its just according to what breed dog we cross back to- how much Bloodhound they had in them.

It just makes a more athletic dog, the way we breed them. They are more agile, they are quicker, they just perform better for us”,

“I remember when I first got on, out on the job, I saw what kind of dogs we had. I had been thinking in my mind that we were running registered Bloodhounds. I went in back and I saw some dogs that were black and some dogs with a very tight skin, I got to thinking this is not a Bloodhound that I’m seeing.”

“I got to talking with “Hoss” (Horton – in charge of the team in 1972) and I said, Hoss, how come we don’t have any registered Bloodhounds that we actually use to track?  We had one show dog; his name was ‘Pete’, named after Pete Strom; a great big dog out of North Carolina. That dog must have weighed 120 – 130 pounds. A beautiful dog, but he didn’t have a clue when it went to tracking”.

“I talked to Hoss and I told him that everything I had ever heard or read was that a registered Bloodhound was best so why aren’t we using them?  He said, I am sure there is one out there but I haven’t found the right one yet”.

“And I said, would you have a problem if I go out and do some research and find a line somewhere and purchase one and work on it in addition to what we have now and he said fine and he didn’t try to stop me at all. So I did it and we purchased a dog and we actually came across a couple more from time to time”.

“You would get them out there and these cross-bred dogs would run circles around them every time.  They were quicker, they were barking on the trail, they would run and dive off a ditch bank six to eight feet high, dive off the banks into the water – it was just unbelievable and a lot of these registered dogs would be up under your feet”.

“You couldn’t get them away. I’d tell Hoss – you are on to something here obviously. He would just sit there and grin at me.  Once I tried it, I told Hoss – I think I’m done with it”.

“Hoss told me, I’m sure there’s one out there somewhere and if we ever run across it, I want to get one of them. I’m sure we’ll find one someday”.

“I’ll be honest with you. A lot of organizations look down on us for using these kinds of dogs. They want to know why we would diminish the nose of a registered Bloodhound.  But when we put our dogs out there and they start tracking, well you just can’t argue with it.  Why argue with something that works”?

Again, quoting from the history of the BHTT:

“A unique uniform with a specially designed Bloodhound Tracking Team patch added to the professionalism of the team and allowed them to be easily identified”.

“Three Chevrolet Suburban were purchased and identically equipped with radios, cellular phones, LORAN systems, bar lights, and front and rear strobes.  The team received Colt CAR-15 .223 automatic rifles, shotguns, Glock 22 .40 caliber semiautomatic handguns, tactical shoulder harnesses that would hold 61 rounds of ammunition and was specially designed to meet the needs of the team, bullet proof vests, and night vision goggles.  All BHTT members are tactically trained and highly dedicated members of the SLED SWAT Team.  The BHTT is well represented on the SWAT team holding such positions as negotiators, snipers, EMT’s, entry team members, hoist team members, and containment team members”.

“The Bloodhound Tracking Team has continued to improve the quality of training for the Bloodhounds as well as the trackers.  Training programs are documented and certified through the Criminal Justice Academy.  These programs are delivered by team members as requested through out the state and by invitation to the National Police Bloodhound Association”.

I was talking with a local law enforcement officer about the SLED tracking team. His comment was, “When you are being tracked by the BHTT, you are being tracked by the best”.  After watching the trackers and dogs perform, I would agree with him fully.

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