By KATHY CHANG
NEW BRUNSWICK — Never underestimate the nose of a bloodhound and its ability to assist law enforcement officials in locating individuals.
For example, on May 4, there was a brutal, vicious attack in the early morning hours at a local college campus.
The perpetrator left behind a piece of clothing.
With his harness strapped on, Aleck, a 2-year-old bloodhound, and his handler Mike Campbell were deployed a few hours after the attack.
Tracking the piece of clothing, Aleck led law enforcement officials to valuable leads that helped them identify a suspect within hours of the attack.
“He may not have led us to the suspect directly, but he led us to witnesses who knew the attacker,” said Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew Carey.
Currently the case is in ongoing prosecution.
Since 2013, Aleck and Joker, an 8-year-old bloodhound, have assisted the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office Missing Person and Child Abduction Response teams in more than 50 investigations involving missing and endangered adults and children, including at-risk children, autistic children and adults suffering from cognitive impairments.
Carey said it is important to note that seniors can walk a long distance from the place they were last located.
Officials said the bloodhounds primarily assist in missing person cases and child/adult abductions; however, the nature of the brutal, vicious attack case in May fell in line with what bloodhounds are known for.
The bloodhounds are single-purpose scent dogs trained to track human scent and are utilized in search operations throughout Middlesex County.
Carey said the dogs can track the scents to buses and trains and even indicate if someone was in a car.
“They help us save time and rule out things in an investigation,” he said. “We have resources that we can use, but the Campbells are close and ready to go.”
The bloodhound unit is now under the sponsorship of Crime Stoppers of Middlesex County following a unanimous vote by the Board of Directors in August.
By incorporating the dogs under its organization, Crime Stoppers — which provides assistance to law enforcement agencies by taking anonymous information about crimes in exchange for cash rewards — is further achieving its goal of promoting public safety in Middlesex County.
A number of law enforcement agencies and the New Brunswick Police Department in particular have pledged to help finance the operation of the canine unit.
Anthony Caputo, chairman of the Crime Stoppers board, said when a person goes missing — whether a child or an adult — time is of the essence when it comes to locating and reuniting that individual with loved ones.
“The Middlesex County Canine Search and Rescue Team is an integral part of that process,” he said. “The New Brunswick Police Department, along with Crime Stoppers, is proud to be a supporter and contributor to such a worthy endeavor.”
Joker and Aleck’s owners are Michael Campbell and his wife, Debbie, of South Plainfield.
Campbell is a captain with the New Market Fire Department in Piscataway, a Piscataway Township employee and a squad captain for the Urban Search and Rescue Team under the direction of the Middlesex County Fire Marshal’s Office.
He said it was a call about a missing 5-year-old girl with no shoes on that eventually led to the adoption of their first bloodhound, Aggie, and then later, Aleck and Joker. Aggie has since passed away.
“It was February and cold,” Campbell recalled. “We deployed boots on the ground and searched everywhere.”
After three to four hours, the little girl was found at a neighbor’s home.
“I remember telling Debbie there has to be a better way,” said Campbell.
The Campbell family travels to Florida once a year to train Joker and Aleck at 832 K-9’s Deputy Dogs.
“We also take them everywhere at least three days a week,” said Campbell.
On training sessions, the Campbells said they rely on volunteers, who often include their daughter, Erin, and her boyfriend, Matt Vargas.
At a recent training session, the Campbell family along with Capt. Christopher Penna, of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office, met at Roosevelt Park in Edison.
Matt had left a scent two to three weeks before at the park, which ended up behind the Plays in the Park stage. Joker was sent to track that scent, which he did and was rewarded with a treat.
Campbell said it does not matter the weather or how long it has been — the bloodhounds can track the scent.
During a missing person’s case, Campbell said they usually use a particular item that is used most by the person, such as a piece of clothing, gloves, pairs of slippers, pillow cases, socks, glasses, a toothbrush, keys and more.
“It has to be specific to that person,” said Campbell, who encourages law enforcement agencies to touch as little as possible in the person’s room and/or belongings.
As an example, Aleck tracked the scent of a pen used by the Greater Media Newspaper’s reporter, and she zigzagged her way behind a tree at the park.
Within seconds of sniffing the pen, Aleck zigzagged the same route and found her.
Carey and the Campbells said in the end, it is all about bringing missing loved ones back to their families.
With a gentle paw and sometimes a slobbery kiss, Joker and Aleck are fulfilling that mission.