The newest member of the Santa Ana Police Department has a super power.
She also has long floppy ears, a wet nose, and droopy eyes.
Rosie, a four-month-old bloodhound genetically built to track scents for many miles, was introduced to the public on Dec. 5 at the Santa Ana City Council meeting.
The $15,000 cost to purchase and train Rosie was donated by Hoag Hospital’s Department of Community Health.
Because bloodhounds possess 300 million scent receptors (the most of any dog breed and 40 times more than the number in humans), law enforcement officials use them to find missing people.
Rosie is Santa Ana PD’s first ever bloodhound, and her tracking ability will likely be used often.
“We average about 1,500 missing reports a year,” said Santa Ana PD Sgt. James Rose, who oversees the department’s K9 program. “Of those, approximately 150 are deemed critical … children, elderly people in need of medication.”
When a missing person can’t be located within a certain period of time, Santa Ana PD typically requests the services of a bloodhound belonging to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.
But the response time from the OCSD can be lengthy if the dog’s handler is not on duty, Rose said.
“The sooner the bloodhound is put to a track, especially in an urban environment, the more successful they are,” Rose said. “So, having one here locally with a much faster response time could really improve the efficiency.”
Rosie, incidentally, is named after Rosemarie Ayala, a recently retired administrative assistant who worked under Dr. Gwyn Parry, the director of Hoag’s Department of Community Health.
The donation was inspired in part by a frightening ordeal experienced by Hoag employee Michaell Rose, Sgt. Rose’s wife.
Last summer, Michaell’s 71-year old mother, who is in the advanced stages of dementia, wandered away from her Santa Ana home in the middle of the night.
“Probably the darkest day of my life,” Michaell said.
Officers, family members, and friends fanned out in search of the missing woman. A helicopter joined the search from above.
Santa Ana PD didn’t have a bloodhound at the time and was on the verge of reaching out to the OCSD when Michaell’s mother was found miles away, in Little Saigon in Westminster.
“We don’t want anyone else to have to go through that,” Michaell said. “I think if there is an option to bring a loved one home quickly, efficiently, and safely, then we should pursue that option.”
Through informal conversations between Michaell and Dr. Parry and between Michaell and her husband, Dr. Parry determined that providing money for a bloodhound for Santa Ana PD would do a great service to the community.
Officer Bob Guidry, Rosie’s handler, has been training with his new partner for a few months.
“It’s like having another kid at home,” Guidry quipped. “She is only four months old. She has a little maturing to do.”
For now, Rosie is training for her future role as an expert tracker by playing games of hide and seek, starting with 50-foot intervals.
Rosie will eventually be tracking scents over longer distances that will include turns and jumping fences.
“It’s exciting to see her work,” Guidry said.
When a bloodhound sniffs a scent on a piece of clothing or an item handled by the subject, the dog’s brain creates an “odor image” akin to a photograph, Guidry said.
When fully trained, Rosie will use the odor image as a reference point as she tracks her subject.
Even through she’ll pick up a variety of other scents, Rosie will focus only on the subject’s scent.
“We were lucky,” Michaell said. “We got (my mother) back in four hours or so. But not all families are so lucky and we just want to make sure that everyone gets their loved one back safely.”