YORKTOWN HEIGHTS, N.Y. -- Fox Meadow Middle/High School students had the chance to meet an 80-pound, long-eared super sleuth last week when Wiltsy, the K-9 detective, came to the school for a visit.
Teacher Patty Lucido invited Trooper Fran Torson of the New York State Police K-9 Unit to come to class with her canine partner in response to questions students taking Lucido’s forensic science course had raised about the animals.
“We were talking about methods of evidence collection and one way to gather evidence is to use dogs, whose keen sense of smell can track a person for more than 100 miles,” Lucido said. “The students said they would like to see one of those dogs and learn more.”
Wiltsy, a bloodhound, has been on the job for only eight months, but has already assisted in a number of cases and successfully tracked a man who had run away from a group home, Torson said.
To track the man, Wiltsy relied on the scent from a car key, which was the only item that had not been touched by other people.
Researchers have estimated that a bloodhound’s nose consists of approximately 230 million olfactory cells, or “scent receptors” – 40 times the number in humans.
In addition to their highly efficient noses, the dogs’ efforts to track scents are assisted by their long ears, which drag on the ground, collect odors and sweep them into the dog’s nostrils.
Torson said bloodhounds are primarily used to track missing elderly people and children who may have wandered off, along with suspected or known criminals fleeing police.
The canines are well suited to the task because bloodhounds can differentiate between the scent of the person being chased and those that are pursuing.
In contrast, Torson said, German shepherds, which are also used in police work, will chase the freshest scent.
Torson said the dogs’ training is based on repetition and reward.
“She’s a dog, so she wants a reward,” Torson said.
Wiltsy’s preferred treat is a hot dog. Torson keeps them in the cargo pockets of her uniform when training or working a case with her.
Despite Wiltsy’s skills and the seriousness of her job, all anyone wanted to do at the conclusion of the talk was get up close and pet her.
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