City Manager Kevin Anderson, Mayor Don Lyons and City Clerk Jim Snow meet Nellie, the Missing Child Response Team’s bloodhound and handler Tiffany Graves.
City Manager Kevin Anderson, Mayor Don Lyons and City Clerk Jim Snow meet Nellie, the Missing Child Response Team’s bloodhound and handler Tiffany Graves.

Archived Story

Council meets Nellie the bloodhound

Published 4:37pm Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dowagiac City Council Monday night met Nellie, the only four-legged member of Cass County’s new Missing Child Response Team.

Tiffany Graves, who was with a canine unit for four years during 22 years as a Florida deputy, obtained the bloodhound free of cost.

“I have a dual role with the team,” said Graves, who is also an officer for Pokagon Tribal Police. “I saw a lot of reunited families and closure, and I wanted to bring that to this area as a private citizen. With support from the Cass County Sheriff’s Office, I was able to get Nellie from the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abductions.

“Jimmy was a 9-year-old kidnapped at gunpoint from his school bus stop on Sept. 11, 1995, sodomized and shot as he was trying to escape. It’s kind of near and dear to my heart because I was an officer in Florida when it happened. To free more children from the clutches of sexual predators, the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victims of Predatory Abductions was established in June 1996.”

“Jimmy’s legacy is reflected in the words from Isaiah carved on his tombstone, ‘A little child shall lead them,’ ” she said.

Graves said Nellie is 13 weeks old. Her training started at eight weeks.

“She plays hide and seek and does quite a good job of tracking. A bloodhound scent discriminates. If a scene is completely contaminated, a bloodhound can take an article of clothing and follow that scent — whether it’s 24 hours old, older than that, whether it’s rained or snowed, through mud, through water. We lay about five tracks a week and go to seminars all around the state. She is the only one in this area. There’s another bloodhound two months older in Coldwater we’re training with. Nellie’s doubled in size.”

Nellie visited Sam Adams Elementary School in Cassopolis last week.

“It’s amazing how kids respond to her,” Graves said. “Hide-and-seek makes the kids not so scared. We’re going to be working with your schools here in Dowagiac with Nellie, too. Her name means ‘bright shining light,’ and that’s what we hope she is for kids in this area. This team is comprised of a lot of very talented people. She’s just a small part, a tool.”

“No one agency is big enough to handle a child abduction,” Deputy Police Chief Steve Grinnewald said. “We’ve been very successful pooling our resources for the major crimes task force, such as homicides, so the conversation (between city Public Safety Director Tom Atkinson and Cass County Sheriff’s Capt. Lyndon Parrish) turned to what else can we do? A parent’s worst nightmare is a missing child. Our one goal is to find an abducted or missing child and return them to their family.”

“I pray it’s like car insurance, and we never use it,” Third Ward Councilman Dr. Charles Burling said. “But I sure am glad it’s there.”

Grinnewald was part of a group of 12 who went to Louisville for weeklong training funded by the Justice Department last September.

When abducted children are murdered, 74 percent die within three hours; 91 percent within 24 hours; and “most telling, 58 percent of these cases are not even reported until two hours after a child goes missing, so we’re behind the eight ball from the beginning. We’re playing catch-up when we start. For an agency of three to four or 10 officers to try to figure this out and get ahead of it is way beyond their scope. Be alert and observant and call if something doesn’t look right. The sooner we can get activated, the more help we can be. We’d rather be called and have it be nothing.”

Team members also include the prosecutor’s office, represented by Assistant Prosecutor Tiffiny Vohwinkle, Department of Corrections, Dowagiac Fire Department, Pokagon Band Tribal Police Department, Michigan State Police, Department of Human Services, Family Court, Woodlands Behavioral Health and county emergency management and information systems.

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