Ain’t Nothin’ But A Hound Dog

Pictured Above: Fox Meadow Middle/High School students pet Wiltsy, a bloodhound assigned to the State Police K-9 Unit with Officer Fran Torson.

Fox Meadow students had the chance to meet an 80-pound, long-eared, super sleuth Friday when Wiltsy, the K-9 detective, visited the school.

Teacher Patty Lucido invited Officer Fran Torson of the New York State Police K-9 Unit to visit the school with her canine partner in response to questions students had raised in the Forensic Science class Lucido teaches.

“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,” said Lucido. “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, Torson said. But she has already assisted in a number of cases and successfully tracked a man who had run away from a group home. 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, these dogs are helped to track scents by their long ears, which drag on the ground, collect odors and sweep them into the dog’s nostrils.

Students were fascinated by what it takes to be a police dog like Wiltsy, how such dogs are trained, and how they are used by police agencies. Torson said bloodhounds are primarily used to track missing people like elderly people or children who may have wandered off, or suspected or known criminals fleeing police. They are well suited to the task because bloodhounds can differentiate between the scent of the person being pursued and those trying to catch him or her. In contrast, she said, German Shepherds, which are also used in police work, will chase the freshest scent.

As for training, Torson said it was all about repetition and reward.

“She’s a dog so she wants a reward,” Torson said. Wiltsy’s preferred treat is a hot dog and Torson keeps them in the cargo pockets of her uniform when training or working a case with Wiltsy.

Despite Wiltsy’s impressive 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.