Retired US deputy sheriff Terry Davis was speaking in Cork yesterday on the last day of his first visit to Ireland to deliver training for the voluntary Irish Search Dogs organisation.
Mr Davis spent almost 30 years working in law enforcement in Loudoun County, Virginia. He worked search dogs on dozens of cases relating to missing persons, homicide, rape, and drugs.
One of his most memorable cases was using a bloodhound, when almost all hope had faded, to locate the body of a missing two-year-old who had fallen in to a creek.
A member of the National Police Bloodhound Association, he now delivers trail dog training to police forces around the world — including the elite Swiss and German police dog handling units.
He said it took some time to convince US authorities of the value of search dogs.
“But it is now widely accepted in the US that if you can get a bloodhound out there early, you can save resources real quick,” he said. “They may solve the problem real quick but if they can’t, they can give you a direction of travel to focus resources.”
Irish Search Dogs chairman Glen Barton said: “We are trying to train our dogs, and ourselves, to the highest standard and we called Terry in because of his time and experience. The US leads the world in this area of working bloodhounds.”
Irish Search Dogs works with four types of search dog — trailing bloodhounds, air scenting, water dogs for finding people in rivers, and cadaver dogs for locating remains.
It is the only group in Ireland which uses fully bred bloodhounds for trailing — their stars include Achilles, Max, Byron, and Lilly.
Mr Barton said they hope to convince the Irish authorities of the value of bloodhounds in assisting in missing person searches.
“The attitude here is often to call the dogs in when everything else has failed. We would hope to convince the authorities of the valuable resource we are and to give us the early call.”
Instead of deploying several assets and resources such as coastguard helicopters, civil defence units, and volunteers across a wide area, Mr Barton said bloodhounds can help focus assets in a particular area.
“They are particularly useful in situations where CCTV is not available, where gardaí don’t have a ‘place last scene’ location, or a mobile phone location.”
He cited an example from West Cork recently where a local garda who was aware of their work called them soon after a car was found abandoned near a river.
A bloodhound got a scent from the car, trailed the scent for several hundred metres along the river bank, and identified where the person entered the river.
It allowed gardaí to eliminate vast swathes of forestry and concentrate their search downstream.
It resulted in the recovery of a body from the river within three hours — preventing a grieving family from an agonising wait.