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Bloodhounds and Scent Evidence

Bloodhounds and Scent Evidence

Officer Kathy “Kat” Albrecht

Because of their ability to scent discriminate and to work “cold” tracks, the Bloodhound is a tool that can be utilized by investigators to develop leads in criminal cases. Bloodhounds are most often used to search for missing persons, criminals who have fled the police, and prison escapees. Yet many police agencies, especially on the east coast, routinely utilize Bloodhounds at “cold” crime scenes to retrace a criminal’s path and to develop leads. Scent is known as “the forgotten evidence” because it is invisible, it is deposited at most crime scenes, it is not collected and it is underutilized. By collecting scent from the crime scene and utilizing a trained Bloodhound, an investigator can retrace the path a suspect or victim walked. This type of Bloodhound utilization has resulted in locating witnesses, evidence, and suspects.


Bloodhounds are known as “man hunters” or “man trailers” and are descendants of the seventh century French St. Hubert Hounds. They were imported into America sometime before the Revolutionary War. In the sixteenth century, Bloodhounds were used extensively to hunt men, especially poachers and thieves. Game Wardens using Bloodhounds often caught poachers with fresh blood on their hands from skinning the game, giving rise to the popular saying, “being caught red handed.” So highly was their testimony regarded that they were given the legal right to follow a trail anywhere, including into homes. A man refusing to allow a trailing Bloodhound into his house was assumed guilty.

Modern Utilization

Bloodhounds are no longer strictly used to work in rural and wilderness environments. Now they are routinely used by metropolitan police agencies to track suspects in urban environments. One of the most successful Bloodhound programs currently in place is with the New York Police Department. In their first year, the N.Y.P.D. Bloodhounds ran 120 successful tracks. According to K-9 handler Bruce Marsanico, Bloodhounds were added to the N.Y.P.D. K-9 Unit because with patrol dogs “there was a definite deterioration in the ability to follow someone as time passed.” While the traditional patrol dogs did well tracking suspects on a “hot” track, they became less effective as time passed and as more people crossed over the track.

Bloodhounds should not be used to replace the traditional patrol dog as Bloodhounds serve a separate function. If a hot track is laid and a patrol dog is available, the patrol dog should be called in first since they are trained to apprehend a suspect. Patrol dogs are versatile at tracking hot scent, searching buildings and rural areas for a suspect, protecting officers and apprehending suspects. If a patrol dog is not successful or is unavailable and a Bloodhound is to be used for a fresh felony track, a minimum of two additional officers should be provided as backup. When working a Bloodhound, the handler is focused on watching their dog. The backup officer’s job is to protect the team, to remain oriented to their location, and to apprehend the suspect if located.

While the patrol dog is considered a “general practitioner” with much training emphasis on bite work, the Bloodhound is considered a “specialist” trained strictly to do one thing, hunt down people. A Bloodhound handler devotes 100% of their training time on search work where they learn to interpret their hound’s body language to determine if the hound is on or off the scent. A Bloodhound is trained to take the scent from a “scent article,” an object which contains the suspect’s scent. If a physical object is not left behind by the suspect, scent can be collected by swabbing an area that the suspect touched. The handler would use a sterile gauze pad to collect scent from areas such as steering wheels, car seats, a window sill, or even a body.

Bloodhounds range in price from $300 to $1,000 depending on the quality. A good source of information and potential way to find a Bloodhound pup is by using the Internet to view the websites of the “Bloodhound Bunch” and the “Bloodhound Network.” On average, it takes at least one year to train a Bloodhound and handler to be ready for search work. The routine training of a Bloodhound includes working tracks in heavily populated areas, shopping malls, and residential areas to expose the hound to distractions. These training tracks are aged anywhere from one hour to seven days. Scent can remain in cool, damp areas for several weeks, perhaps months. Bloodhounds have been used successfully on tracks that were over a week old. In 1995, a Santa Clara County Bloodhound tracked down a man who had been missing for eight days. While it is preferred that the Bloodhound be utilized as soon as possible, it remains a viable tool to be called in hours, even days after a crime has taken place.

Case Histories

The following are examples of cases where Bloodhounds were used to provide valuable, critical information to criminal investigations. They demonstrate situations where a case with few leads led to an apprehension based upon the work of a Bloodhound. The N.Y.P.D. case listed is an excerpt from an article published in New York’s Finest magazine titled, “N.Y.P.D. Bloodhounds Lead The Way.” The cases handled by the Michigan and the Maryland handlers occurred in 1996 and were related to me by the handlers themselves.

N.Y.P.D. 67th Precinct.

The mutilated body of a female was found on the roof of a Manhattan apartment house. There was no blood at the crime scene, leaving investigators to believe the crime had been committed elsewhere. But where? The Bloodhounds were called and led the officers to an apartment building, to the bathtub in one of the apartments. Lab analysis proved that the body had been in the tub, and that the drain was still holding the victim’s blood.

Hagerstown, Maryland.

Maryland State Trooper Doug Lowry and his Bloodhound Jimmy were called in to assist with a homicide investigation. The body of a woman was found in her apartment. The woman’s wrists were bound, her throat was slashed, and a rag was stuffed down her mouth. Lowry used the rag as scent material because it had been touched by the suspect. Jimmy scented off the rag, tracked from the apartment to the parking lot and sniffed at some cigarette butts located in a vacant parking stall. Jimmy continued to show interest in this area of the parking lot and eventually indicated that there was no foot trail leading away from the parking lot. Lowry told investigators that Jimmy had indicated that the suspect probably left in a vehicle parked in the parking lot. Investigators interviewed neighbors. One neighbor reported that at 2:00 a.m. they saw an unfamiliar sedan parked in the vacant parking stall with a subject smoking a cigarette by the car. Investigators obtained a surveillance video of the parking lot from security and obtained a license tag from a sedan parked in the stall with the cigarette butts. Investigators contacted the registered owner who came to the police station for questioning. The subject confessed to the homicide

Dearborn, Michigan

Dearborn Police Department Corporal John Salem and his Bloodhound Chester were instrumental in solving a murder/robbery of an armored guard. Through electronic mail, Corporal Salem described the search as follows:

“We had an interesting armed robbery case in which two armored car guards made a stop to stock an ATM. The passenger guard was shot in the head and dead on the scene. The driver guard ran to call for help. I ran Chester off the empty cargo area of the armored car. The strange thing is, he took a trail consistent with where the driver guard said he ran to call for help. The driver guard had said he never went anywhere near the cargo area of the armored car. I then began thinking the driver guard was not telling the truth about something. Why would Chester take the suspect scent from the cargo area and run the trail of the driver guard? Unless the driver guard was in on the crime.

“As a result, our detectives began focusing on the driver guard as a suspect. The driver guard became very nervous and refused to answer any more of our questions without an attorney. The next afternoon, our detectives reviewed the ATM surveillance camera tape and Chester’s work was confirmed. Apparently, the camera captured the driver guard shooting his partner and helping to unload the $1.2 million dollars from the cargo area. He was then officially charged with the murder/robbery. The loot was unloaded into a pickup truck driven away by the driver guard’s cousin. Seven days later, the FBI located the cousin in a local Red Roof Inn. A shootout ensued and the cousin took his own life. They recovered about $1 million in the cousin’s hotel room.”

Dearborn, Michigan.

Corporal Salem and Chester were also used to help solve a burglary. Officers responded to an alarm at a Clark Gas Station. Upon arrival, they discovered a “smash and grab.” The thief had taken cigarettes and lighters, dropping several on the ground during his escape. Corporal Salem scented Chester off the dropped cigarettes and he began trailing, working into the city of Detroit. Chester worked the curbside of a roadway in a manner that indicated he was following the residual scent of the suspect who was traveling in a vehicle. Chester worked in this manner until he approached a pickup truck at Whitlock and Asbury Park. Detroit P.D. had the pickup stopped for a traffic violation when Chester jumped up on the pickup truck showing interest in the driver. Several packs of cigarettes and new lighters with the Clark Gas Station logo were discovered when they looked inside the pickup. The driver was arrested for the burglary.


Currently there are only approximately fifteen Bloodhounds being used for search work in the state of California. The majority of these Bloodhounds are handled by civilians or Reserve Officers with only three being handled by police officers (Irvine P.D., Alameda P.D., and U.C. Santa Cruz P.D.). The counties which currently have Bloodhounds available for search work are: Humboldt County, Sonoma County, Contra Costa County, Alameda County, Santa Clara County, Santa Cruz County, Yolo County, Tulare County, Orange County, and Riverside County. If your agency operates within one of these counties, you can access the Bloodhound as an “in county resource.” If your agency operates in a county that does not have a Bloodhound, you can call the Office of Emergency Services (OES) and request a “Police Bloodhound for a criminal search.”

Because Bloodhounds can work older tracks in an urban environment, they are an ideal tool for criminal investigations. In addition to being a resource for search and rescue cases and criminal apprehensions, Bloodhounds make excellent investigative tools. Sexual assaults, homicides, and burglaries are just a few examples of cases where Bloodhounds have proven useful. As long as scent evidence is available at a crime scene, Bloodhounds can be utilized. By retracing the route that a suspect or victim walked, Bloodhounds can help to recover evidence, locate witnesses, and perhaps even catch a crook “red handed.”