INVERNESS, Fla - The Citrus County Sheriff's office is the the first county agency in the nation to use human scent preservation kits to track down missing persons.
"I think of it like putting your seatbelt on. You don't put it on thinking you are going to go out and have a crash, but if you do, it could save a life," explained Linda Boles, bloodhound trainer.
According to the FBI's National Crime Information Center, as of January 31, 2013, there were 85,081 cases of missing persons in the United States. Of that number, 35,427 were missing children cases ages 0-17, and 49,654 cases of missing persons ages 18-99.
When older adults go missing, many are suffering from Alzheimer's Disease or dementia.
Citrus County Deputy Nancy Suto told ABC Action News, no matter who is lost, time is critical.
"The percentage of finding them alive or in good condition diminishes greatly as time goes on because of the elements or any health issues that may be of a concern," said Suto.
Suto and Boles teamed up to bring the new crime fighting tool to the county.
The preservation kit comes with a jar, cotton pad and label.
It is very simple to use. All you have to do is swab a person's skin, place the pad inside the jar, screw the lid on the jar and then label it. The person's scent will be preserved for seven years.
Should a loved one go missing, providing the jar to detectives could help locate your loved one.
"It saves time and it allows that dog to work a pure scent rather than something that could be cross contaminated," Boles added.
Clothing or an item that has been washed or touched by others can throw the bloodhounds off, wasting critical time.
If you have the scent kit ready and waiting, the dogs can hit the ground running almost immediately.
Boles explained that her dogs have an 80% success rate tracking down missing people when a scent is provided.
ABC Action News put Boles's bloodhounds, Winchester and Roxanne, to the test. We provided a scent sample and then took a long walk into the forest preserve, even changing directions multiple times to throw the dogs off.
However, the dogs were able to locate us within 30 seconds of sniffing our scent.
Do not worry about the bloodhounds tracking scents in the rain or days later.
Boles explained that the scent gets even more pungent in the rain. In addition, her bloodhounds were able to successfully located a missing person 96 hours after they went missing.
The kits are being provided to the public for free and can be picked up at the Sheriff's office located at 1 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Inverness. Or, they are available at all EOC locations in the county.