Her partner is a SWAT team member.
Her backup is a German shepherd.
And her job as the newest addition to the Collier County Sheriff’s Office canine unit is a big one. She is a supreme sniffer, an important people pursuer and a trained tracker.
Babe, a 1-year-old bloodhound, is the sole female member of the canine unit and the first of her kind in Southwest Florida. The breed is the best of its kind for its keen sense of smell and picking up human scent.
Trained in search and rescue, the long-eared dog and Cpl. Todd Epright’s canine partner is the first to take on the tasks of tracking and finding missing people, from children to older people who might wander away from their homes, one of the more common calls in the Naples area.
Handling a bloodhound is much different than a German shepherd patrol dog, experts say.
“It’s a huge difference,” Collier sheriff’s Cpl. Cliff Deutsch said. “She can go miles and miles and miles without stopping. So you have to be in good shape to keep up with her.”
Although Babe’s main job is finding people, deputies have been working with her in some criminal-catching, said Deutsch, who is also a member of the canine unit.
They’ve tried her out with an “apprehension team,” a handler and a patrol dog, the kind that can bite to take down an assailant, behind her.
“We’ve run her through different scenarios and she’s performed really well,” Deutsch said.
Babe was donated to the Sheriff’s Office by the Kody Snodgrass Memorial Foundation Inc., which is dedicated to providing law enforcement bloodhounds trained for police work. The Foundation, under the name 832 K-9’s Deputy Dogs, breeds, raises and trains registered bloodhounds.
The foundation is in memory of Deputy Kody H. Snodgrass of the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, who died in a traffic crash early in his career, Deutsch said. His parents run the foundation.
Snodgrass, an accomplished trainer and a successful tracker, handled a bloodhound named Jimmy as part of his job in Central Florida, according to the foundation’s Web site. His badge number was 0832, and is incorporated into the organization’s name.
Snodgrass was 24 when he died in October 2001. He wanted the insurance money distributed because of his death to be used to train law enforcement bloodhounds, Deutsch said.
Kevin Kocher, president of the Bloodhound Training Institute in Fredericksburg, Va., said a bloodhound’s success depends on the handler.
“It takes a lot of time,” he said. “The handler has to take the time.”
Kocher, who is a deputy sheriff in Spotsylvania, Va., said he will spend a year training a bloodhound before he puts it in the field.
“If they’re not properly trained, the success rate will be weak, at best,” he said.
He said before the 1950s, the bloodhound was the favored police tracking dog. And there were even hounds that were trained to be aggressive when finding a person.
Then came the transition to German shepherds, a more all-purpose dog, from tracking to bite work to drug detection, Kocher said.
He said the Texas Department of Corrections still uses bloodhounds trained to be aggressive to capture escapees. But there are fewer than 1,000 bloodhounds in use in law enforcement, he said.
“It’s whatever works for the dog,” he said, explaining how the bloodhounds are trained to capture and hang on to suspects.
How the dogs work is very different.
“With a shepherd, the officer tells the dog where to start,” he said. “They point the dog. With a bloodhound, the dog will point the direction for the officer.”
He said he has had success on 7-day-old cases. While a shepherd might be more skilled at fresh pursuits, a bloodhound can sniff a trail long after the bad guy or lost person is long gone.
“For instance on a fresh car bailout,” he said, “I’d put the patrol dog on it. It’s a fresh call.”
Training makes all of the difference, he said.
“If you get a well-trained dog, it will be an asset for your community,” he said.
Deutsch said Babe gets along with her Collier canine counterparts. She even rides with a German shepherd.
“She’s got a great temperament,” Deutsch said.