Cass County’s Nellie on trail of success
In less than three years, Tiffany Graves and Nellie the bloodhound have become key figures for the Cass County Sheriff’s Office.
When Cass County formed CART — Child Abduction Response Team — in 2013, Graves was new to the sheriff’s office, but not law enforcement.
She spent four years with a canine unit during a 22-year span as a Florida deputy.
Graves was hired in May 2013 with her primary job being Youth Intervention Officer.
“I have four schools, two elementary and two Jr./Sr. high that I directly am involved with, but my main office is in Cassopolis’ Ross Beatty Jr./Sr. High School,” she said. “I am also the Cass County Mounted Division liaison, coordinating horse patrol activities.”
But Graves is better known known as the handler of Nellie, Cass County’s bloodhound, who is a part of CART.
“I obtained Nellie prior to being hired in December 2012 from the Jimmy Ryce Center for Victim’s of Predatory Abduction in Florida for the use of finding lost children in his county,” Graves said. “Since then, Nellie has become much more than that to our county.”
Nellie came to the sheriff’s office free of charge.
Because Graves and Nellie go everywhere together, including Ross Beatty, she has become a bit of a star in Cass County.
“She is a welcoming sight to the kids and staff alike at the school,” Graves said. “She has a calming effect on the kids that are hurt, upset or angry. We do many programs, not just in my four schools, but in any Cass County or neighboring county schools or groups that request us, such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H and churches.
“We speak about strangers, getting lost and social media dos and don’ts and consequences. We teach classes on scent and scent theory, where we do actual training with Nellie so they can see her amazing nose.”
Graves and Nellie can also be found at area festivals, parades, fairs and other events.
“We use her at child identification events where an officer fingerprints children and gives the parent identification kits,” she said. “We make regular visits to the Cass County Medical Care Facility to visit the elderly that love to give her hugs and attention. She is a community policing tool that links law enforcement to the people in our communities.”
But do not get the idea that life is all fun and games for Graves and Nellie.
Graves acquired Nellie at eight weeks of age and her training began immediately.
“Nellie has been socialized from the day we obtained her at eight weeks of age,” Graves said. “She has been around every sexual orientation, race and all ages. This is a critical part of her training, so there is no fear she would ever be aggressive in any situation.”
Nellie, who is now 3 years-old, has also been a success in the field as well.
She is the only bloodhound in southwest Michigan. The nearest bloodhound is in Coldwater, which Graves and the sheriff’s office has developed a close working relationship with.
While K-9 units are common in law enforcement, a bloodhound performs a completely different set of skills.
“While you cannot say that all German shepherds are tracking dogs, because there are some trailing dogs,” Graves said, “there is a difference between tracking and trailing that the average person does not really understand. But generally, German Shepherds that are tracking dogs follow the last scent out of the area. So blood, adrenaline, vapor, the bad guys running, he is breaking grass and foliage as he goes out of the area. It follows the last person out of the area.
“A bloodhound is scent specific, which means she is going to trail skin rafts. You lose 40,000 of them a minute whether you want to or not. They are all over the place. That is what they are trailing. She processes in a specific olfactory system that makes up and individual’s scent. So when she follows something, we may be a football field away from that person and it is windy out there, but skin rafts blow. They lay on top of the water. They blow into cornfields. Nothing can really fool her. The only problem she will ever have is me because I have to trust what she is doing and where she is leading me.”
Nellie has had 24 call-outs so far since she went into service.
“The call outs are basically the ones we end up on the scene for,” Graves said. “That does not include all the ones we start out to and are on the way to when they found the person. So some weeks can be really busy in the summer. You would be surprised how many missing people there are at that time of year.”
Nellie has recorded eight assists, which means she has provided information that helped locate the missing person.
“She will do a certain trail that will indicate that a person been picked up by a vehicle,” Graves said. “She has five finds. Three were juvenile and two were elderly.”
So while Nellie waits for her next call-out, she will spend her days with Graves in their office at Ross Beatty greeting staff, students and parents.