Brewer: Woman, her yellow Lab help in searches when trails grow cold
By Nok-Noi Ricker
Saturday, March 15, 2008 - Bangor Daily News, March 15, 2008 - Bangor Daily News
More than a week after a Bangor man mysteriously disappeared in November and after police had exhausted all their leads, Quincy, a 2½-year-old specially trained yellow Lab, and his handler, Julie Jones of Brewer, were called in to search for clues to the disappearance.
Quincy, who is trained in "aged" scent-specific detection, quickly found 25-year-old Matt LaCrosse’s trail, which led from a downtown Bangor bar to the railing of the State Street Bridge over Kenduskeag Stream.
With the evidence, police believed LaCrosse had fallen into the stream the night of Nov. 9. His body was found nearly 25 miles downstream.
Surprising to some, Quincy is not a police dog. He is part of the Volunteer K9 Scent Specific Search and Recovery team.
"We do really old and contaminated stuff," said Jones, commander of canine activities in New England for VK9. "The more it’s contaminated, the harder it is."
VK9 is a nonprofit organization based in Virginia that provides scent-specific services nationwide to law enforcement agencies, missing person organizations, emergency management agencies, and sometimes even families.
While Bangor police have dogs to trace criminals running from a crime scene, bomb sniffing dogs and drug searching canines, they do not have ones trained in scent specific trailing and criminal and evidence recovery work, Lt. Tim Reid said Friday.
"It’s not the kind of thing we’ve used that often," he said. "We were aware that [Brewer police Sgt.] Arden Jones’ wife had those dogs, and reached out to her."
Julie Jones got interested in canine training while dating her husband, who was a police dog handler at the time. She was a member of the Maine Search and Rescue Group from 1994 to 2006 and joined the VK9 group nearly four years ago.
Jones, who works in the sociology department at the University of Maine, is the lone VK9 handler in Maine and has been sent all over the state and country to try to solve unresolved crimes.
"Our dogs are trained to do the aged work," she said. "We’ll generally go in when law enforcement isn’t able to solve a crime. They’ll use us to garner new leads."
Typically, the work begins days after the crime occurs, Jones said, adding unsolved homicides and abductions make up the majority of the work.
Quincy, who she describes as a "Godsend" is trained to pick up and follow one specific scent. For example, when humans walk into a home that is filled with the smell of freshly baked apple pie, "we smell apple pie. They smell flour, they smell shortening — the different components," she explained. "With our dogs, we train them [to search] for that one scent."
The VK9 group’s six volunteers aren’t paid, but typically travel expenses and living accommodations are provided by the agency asking for assistance, she said.
"As long as we’re able to help, we’ll continue doing that," Jones said. "We’ll continue working."
In Maine, Jones works on average 15 to 20 cases annually.
"It really pulls at your heart and your soul because you know you just retraced the last steps of when they were alive," she said. "In one sense, it’s a blessing [to have answers], but in the next breath, it’s a big responsibility. I just appreciate that I’m able to do it — to help."