Published by: Holt, 2000
Copyright © Marilyn Singer 2000

A Dog’s Gotta Do What A Dog’s Gotta Do

(excerpt from Chapter Four)


The thief was clever. He’d stolen the horse and buggy and left no clues. No clues that anyone could see. That made it a job for X-Ray and Jo-Jo. The two bloodhounds sniffed the horse’s currycomb, and then they were off! At first, their handler, Dr. J.B. Fulton, followed them in his own buggy. Then, as miles passed, he let the dogs ride with him. Whenever they reached a crossroad, Fulton sent the dogs out to steer them down the right path. For 135 miles across Kansas, they tracked that horse and the man who stole it – and found them. It was the longest scent trail any dogs had ever followed.

There’s a true story about a Border collie who was a terrific herder. She followed her master’s commands. She stared at her sheep and got them to move just the way her master wanted them to go. She was great at her job–and she was also blind. How did she know where the sheep were? She used her ears and, especially, her nose.

Like their wolf ancestors, dogs have good vision and great hearing. But it’s their sense of smell that is truly extraordinary. Some dogs can detect a single drop of blood in several gallons of water or a living person buried under many feet of snow. Dogs have always been able to hunt prey by scent. Many years ago, some dog breeders wondered if dogs could also use scent to track down animals and people who were lost. Could they trail criminals who didn’t want to be found? The answer was yes.

Of all breeds, bloodhounds are the champion trackers. Although they are hunting dogs, their name has nothing to do with killing. It’s from “blooded hound,” which means purebred. Bloodhounds are actually very gentle dogs. They would rather lick than bite the people they find. Bloodhounds can naturally recognize a person or animal by its scent, but they must be trained to track. First, the dog has to get used to its leash and then its harness. Then it learns to sniff an article of clothing or something else handled by a person. The dog finds that person by following his or her scent trail.

Every person leaves a scent trail. It is caused by millions of tiny skin cells that we shed every day. Each person’s scent trail is unique. We cannot smell this trail, but bloodhounds and other dogs can. The scent fades over time and with changing weather. But dogs can still smell it, even days later. They can detect the scent in the countryside, in a city, or even underwater. One criminal believed that if he sprinkled red pepper as he walked, it would disguise his scent. It didn’t. Another thought that if he drove a car, it would be impossible for a dog to follow his trail. It wasn’t. In a murder case on Long Island, New York, a bloodhound named Sappho tracked the murderer for three miles along the highway. The man’s scent had drifted out of his car onto the grass by the side of the road.

Bloodhounds were once the only breed whose evidence was allowed in court. The first bloodhound to testify was named Rye. Rye smelled a pillowcase that a murderer used to strangle his victims. Then the dog was brought to a group of suspects.He sniffed one man, sat before him, and barked. That man was the murderer. Now other breeds besides bloodhounds can testify in court, too.

Bloodhounds are also good at finding lost people and missing pets. But search and rescue is usually done by other breeds. Search and rescue means finding people trapped by earthquakes, avalanches, bombings, and other disasters. Some dogs will only look for living people. Others will search for dead bodies.

One of the most famous search-and-rescue dogs was a Saint Bernard named Barry. He was born in 1800, and he worked at the St. Bernard Hospice, a shelter for travelers in the Swiss Alps. The monks who lived there kept large mastiff-type dogs for many years. The dogs and the hospice were named for the human saint who founded the shelter. Barry’s job was to find and rescue people lost in the mountains. He had a smooth coat that kept the snow from sticking to his fur and weighing him down. He probably used his ears as well as his nose when he was searching. Scientists think that certain dogs, especially large ones such as St. Bernards and Newfoundlands, can hear as well as smell people buried deep under the snow.

There are many stories about Barry. Most of them say that he worked for twelve years and saved over forty people, and that one of those people was a little boy. In one version of this story, Barry and his handler, Brother Luigi, were out for a walk. An avalanche happened nearby. Brother Luigi wanted to return to the hospice. Barry disobeyed – something he’d never done before. He ran off alone. That night he returned with the boy. Before the boy’s mother died, she’d wrapped the child in her shawl and tied him to Barry’s collar. In another version, the boy was unconscious when Barry found him at the edge of an icy ravine no person could reach. The dog licked and pawed the boy awake, then dragged him to safety. No one is sure which story is true. But everyone believes that Barry must have been an extraordinary dog.