By Joe Beck
MOUNT JACKSON -- The newest member of the Shenandoah County Sheriff's Office didn't have to wait long before being pressed into service.
Maggie, a 1-year old bloodhound, was called out on Sunday to help locate a missing hiker in Page County. The hiker had been located by the time she and her trainer, deputy Keith Cowart, arrived at the scene, but no one doubts she will have many more opportunities to prove her worth as a tracking dog.
"I think we will rely on her services a great deal, as will other jurisdictions in Shenandoah County," Capt. Wesley Dellinger said Monday.
Maggie's highly sensitive nose will be used for tracking, the first time the Sheriff's Office has had a dog among its ranks for that specific purpose. She began her active duty last week.
Until now, the Sheriff's Office had to enlist dogs from other agencies to help locate missing people and fugitives. A tracking dog from outside the county helped locate a missing child last year and a dog also participated in another successful search for a missing child.
Dellinger said investigators also used a search dog during the investigation into the murder of Phyllis Kline of Edinburg in June. The investigation led to the arrest of Claude Delmus Shafer Jr., who is charged with capital murder.
Cowart said he has been preparing Maggie for her first working day since the end of January when the Sheriff's Office bought her from a kennel in Northern Virginia.
Cowart has been impressed by what he describes as her ability to stay focused on tracking and shut out distractions.
"She's very social, eager to please," Cowart said as he put Maggie through a tracking exercise with help from deputy Paige Frazier. "She does the job to the best of her abilities."
Frazier stood across the road and out of sight as she dropped a hair tie on the ground and then hid about a 100 yards away as Cowart let Maggie sniff the scent Frazier left behind on the tie. It took about a minute for Maggie to lead Cowart to Frazier's hiding place behind a tree.
Maggie's reward was a taste of some dog food Frazier offered to her.
Cowart, a 10-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office, said he had worked with hunting dogs, but had no experience with police canines until he volunteered to work with Maggie, "so this is a new experience for both of us."
Maggie lives with Cowart at his home and the bond between them has grown during the short time since her acquisition.
"I know I'm attached, and she's attached to me," Cowart said.
A memo submitted by Sheriff Timothy C. Carter to the county's budget director shows Maggie was purchased for $8,000. A year's worth of high protein food, vehicle modifications to accommodate rear cages, training aids and a kennel with concrete pad and other housing items brought the total estimated costs for her acquisition to $13,525.
Sheriff's Office officials are quick to point out that the money is coming from asset forfeiture funds that cost the taxpayers nothing. Asset forfeiture funds are the product of successful prosecutions of drug and cigarette trafficking offenses that lead to the seizure of cash and property affiliated with criminal activity.
Dellinger said Maggie will be especially useful in eliminating the need for the Sheriff's Office to wait for the arrival of a search dog from another jurisdiction during emergencies.
"Certainly, when you're calling for outside resources, we've had to wait as much as two hours waiting for that resource," Dellinger said of tracking dogs. "When you're talking about people's lives and small children, time is of the essence."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or firstname.lastname@example.org