A young bloodhound named Mia bounded across the lawn in front of duPont Hall during the spring of 2009, searching for the source of the scent she was tracking.
The trail led her to an FBI official hiding in the bushes nearby. When she found him, he congratulated her with a pat on the head, rubbing her behind her ears.
Mia is one of many bloodhounds that were trained on Mary Washington’s Fredericksburg campus from 2006 to 2010 in the FBI Laboratory’s Forensic Canine Program, which is part of the Evidence Response Team Unit.
Supervisory Special Agent Rex Stockham, the program’s manager, said the training program used UMW’s campus because the large amount of sidewalks and students provide an ideal place to teach the dogs how to follow a person.
Susan Knick, assistant vice president for public safety, said UMW offers a unique blend of highly concentrated populations moving around campus, especially in between classes, as well as offering both buildings and open land.
“This allows the dogs to learn how to concentrate on their mission, despite possible interruptions or distractions,” she said. “Also, it provides an unfamiliar training ground for the dogs in that they are moved from Quantico to our campus, an area where the dogs are not training day in and day out.”
Knick said that since the FBI dogs are trained at Quantico, Va., UMW is the only campus to her knowledge that is easily accessible and that the dogs can use for additional training.
Stockham said that the FBI uses human scent evidence canines to compare human scent traces collected at crime scenes to suspects.
The bloodhounds are used to locate and follow scent trails left by an offender, so that the person and other evidence for various crimes can be found.
The bloodhounds trained at UMW are human scent evidence canines, Stockham said.
Trained bloodhounds worked on one such case in 2009 in Anchorage, Alaska, where a mechanical device was used to lift scents off of objects and deposit them on cotton pads. The dogs then used the scented pads to find matching trails, according to a 2008 article in the Anchorage Daily News, to find evidence for a 2002 murder trial.
The scent pads, which were loaded with scents from two different ATMs and a park where the victim was believed to have been before she was killed, all led the dogs to the house of the neighbor accused of killing the victim. Evidence from the dogs’ scent tracking was later used in the court case, and the accused neighbor was sentenced to life in prison.
Stockham said that training locations for the bloodhounds have to change frequently, so the dogs don’t become too comfortable with one place or become afraid to work in a new place.
“As a result, the canine program has not trained on the [UMW] campus in the past year,” he said.
“The FBI currently selects adolescent bloodhounds to better identify successful working traits,” he said. “The Forensic Canine Program also has English Springer Spaniels in training for homicide victim recovery, though we have not trained those dogs at UMW.”
Training a human scent evidence canine begins with a simple game of chase across grass, according to Stockham.
“Our training then creates situations where the dog can learn to follow a scent trail that makes a 90-degree turn,” he said. “Incrementally, we increase distance, duration and difficulty. The goal is to train the dog to follow a human scent trail, aged 24 hours, through a series of 10 turns over the course of one mile through the city.”
Knick said it was mutually beneficial for the FBI bloodhounds to be trained on campus.
“I believe strongly in encouraging all local responders to have knowledge of our campus, and this is another step in that effort,” she said. “While I hope that the day never arrives when we have a major incident on campus, it is reassuring to know that the individuals who will be coming to our aid have firsthand knowledge of our campus—where we are, where our buildings are located, the type of movement we have on campus during a normal day.”
The FBI contacts UMW before they arrive on campus, Knick said. Several departments, including the facilities and public information departments, are notified of the FBI’s presence, preventing anyone from being startled by the appearance of an FBI dog unit on the grounds.
Kat Albrecht, founder of the Missing Pet Partnership in the state of Washington, said bloodhounds are bred to follow colder, older scent trails, making them excellent candidates for training that focuses on following the scent trail of people.
“They also have an innate instinct to lock onto scent and to be scent-focused,” she said. “Of the three bloodhounds that I have trained and handled, all of them have shared the same characteristic: they will ignore distractions and become fixated on scent.”
Albrecht said she has experienced this firsthand.
“When I come home after being exposed to animal scents or have been in a crowd where I have come into contact with several people, my bloodhounds flock to sniff and examine the clothing with great interest, where the other dogs that I own at the same time couldn’t care less,” she said.
Bloodhounds are typically docile, friendly, happy-go-lucky dogs that are only fixated on scent, Albrecht said, but they are dynamic at what they do.
“When combined with the use of patrol dogs who are trained and capable of apprehending a criminal, the team is a force to be dealt with,” she said.