A bloodhound can sniff out the dead skin cells that tumble off a typical human body like so much talcum powder, at the rate of about 30,000 cells per hour.
A bloodhound’s floppy ears rustle dust up from the ground and make it swirl around its nose to make the sniffing easier.
A bloodhound’s olfactory abilities are legendary, dating to the middle ages, when the dogs were gentle enough to live around humans yet wild enough to lead hunts.
Someday, in the not-too-distant future, a bloodhound named Rosie, who is now being trained to work for the police department, is going to find a missing person in Santa Ana. When that happens, someone is going to wonder about the origin story of that amazing bloodhound.
Rosie came to Santa Ana because a woman named Nancy Silva wandered away.
When Michaell Silva was in elementary school, in the 1980s, her mother Nancy was always around.
Nancy was a playground supervisor at lunchtime. When Michaell got to La Quinta High, a few years later, Nancy came with her, taking a part-time job on campus.
“She was an amazing mom,” said Michaell, now 44, of Fountain Valley. “She made me breakfast, lunch and dinner all the way through college.”
They were so close that Nancy, then in her 50s, began sharing her inner-most thoughts with her daughter. That’s when Michaell started to worry.
“I think your father is cheating,” Nancy would say.
“It was weird,” Michaell says now.
Michaell knew the stuff about her father wasn’t true. Her father, Hugo, worked maintenance at the Newport Beach Country Club.
“He clocks in and clocks out,” Michaell told her mother at the time. “He goes straight home.”
There was something wrong, but it wasn’t Hugo.
A clue was in Nancy’s family history. Her mother had died when Nancy was 17; after suffering dementia. Three of her siblings died after similar problems. Though largely undiagnosed, dementia was ravaging Nancy Silva’s family tree.
In her late 50s, Nancy’s behavior became more troubling.
“She would get lost,” Michaell said. “She would say people stole her money. She would tell me she buried money under the rock outside. She started to tell stories at school about people following her. She was worried about being attacked.”
Finally, after visiting several doctors, Nancy was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
“It is a long, slow, painful goodbye,” Michaell said.
Michaell looks at that family history — her history — with dread. She knows she and her children are candidates for dementia.
“It’s terrifying,” Michaell said. “I fear for my children.”
Nancy and Hugo still live in Santa Ana. And Michaell and other relatives visit regularly, to help out Hugo and check in on Nancy.
They’ve even put locks on the outside of the doors so Nancy couldn’t wander away.
The locks don’t always stop her.
On Sept. 22, 2016, Nancy, now 71, was ranting at Hugo about wanting to “go home” even though she was home. He was doing dishes in the kitchen, giving her space as she was throwing things out of the closet in the other room.
Then the house fell quiet. Nancy was gone.
In a panic, Hugo called several people, including Michaell, who happens to be married to Sgt. Jim Rose of the Santa Ana Police Department. Rose put out the word among law enforcement to find his mother-in-law.
A police helicopter went up, announcing over a loudspeaker, “NANCY SILVA IS LOST,” as Michaell and others scoured the neighborhood.
Sgt. Rose went a step further. He called the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, which manages a pair of bloodhounds sometimes used in search operations and, on occasion, loans those hounds out to city police departments.
But the hound-lending process takes about 90 minutes worth of paperwork. And bloodhounds need fresh trails, or their effectiveness diminishes. The skin cells they track tend to dry up and blow away, especially in urban settings in the western United States where there is more concrete, less flora and more heat.
By the time the county bloodhound was ready to start working for the Santa Ana police, Nancy Silva had been found.
She had walked through Little Saigon and approached a man, offering money if he could give her a ride home.
The man didn’t want to get involved, initially. But he soon heard the helicopter and the cop on the loudspeaker asking if anybody in the neighborhood had seen a woman who appeared to be lost or disoriented. After that, he ran down the street, found Nancy, gave her some water, and waited with her until police came.
It was about midnight. She had been missing about three hours.
“She was sobbing,” Michaell said of that night’s reunion. “I just hugged her…
“She asked me if I was her mother.”
Unleash the help
Michaell Silva Rose has a masters degree in social work from Cal State Long Beach, and she’s the director of operations for the department of community health at Hoag Hospital. She has made a career of out of social activism.
When her mother went missing, she wanted to turn the experience into something good. She was talking to her boss, Dr. Gwyn Parry, about searching for her mother, when Parry asked a simple question:
“Don’t they have dogs, like in the movies?”
That sparked an idea.
Inspired by Michaell’s mother, Parry decided to use $15,000 from Hoag’s community benefit fund to buy a bloodhound puppy and donate it to the Santa Ana Police Department. Rosie is named after Parry’s retired assistant, Rosemary Ayala.
The dog is being handled by police officer Bob Guidry, who expects about a year of training before Rosie can go on the hunt for missing people. There will be even more training – a court certification process – if he wants Rosie to get involved in criminal searches. The extra training could make it possible for police and prosecutors to use Rosie’s work as evidence in a trial.
“It’s baby steps now,” Guidry said. “The key is response time.”
He said Rosie, who is five weeks old, is already an amazing sleuth. His two sons, Jacob and Donovan, can hide several hundred yards away and all she needs is a sniff of their clothing to find them.
“Every week I see the progression,” Guidry said.
Sgt. Rose looks forward to the day Rosie finds a missing child or an elderly person.
“These dogs are amazing,” Rose said. “The only obstacle is how good the trail is.”
To view the original Orange County Register article, please click here.