Reporting David Sutta
SWEETWATER (CBSMiami) — The latest addition to the City of Sweetwater’s police department doesn’t carry a gun or a night stick, but if a child is reported missing he’s the one you want on the case. Monday, Don Ryce, executive director and president of the Jimmy Ryce Foundation introduced to the City of Sweetwater Police Department, a 5-month old black and tan bloodhound named “Gunner.”
Gunner and his handler, Sweetwater Police Officer Jenna Mendez have been training with Palm Beach Sheriff’s Officer Lewis Ledbetter and his K9 partner “Clue” for several months and although he won’t be fully trained for another year, she already has her hands full.
“He’s a pistol right now. He’s got a lot of energy but he’s getting a little bit better. Still working on obedience but he’s great,” said Mendez.
Bloodhounds have a very keen sense of smell so they are used to track missing persons. After his training, police will be able to use Gunner to track missing children and senior citizens, as well as subjects who are on the run from a crime. Sweetwater will be offering Gunner’s services to the surrounding cities and counties once he is fully trained.
Monday’s dedication by the Jimmy Ryce Foundation took place at Sweetwater Elementary School.
The foundation is named after Jimmy Ryce, who was 9-years old when he was kidnapped at gunpoint after getting off his school bus in the Redland in September 1995. He was sexually assaulted and killed. His dismembered body was found three months later near a trailer used by his killer Juan Carlos Chavez.
In starting the foundation after their son’s death, Don and Claudine Ryce instituted the Bloodhound Project which aims to provide AKC bloodhounds free to law enforcement agencies to find abducted and lost children.
“The more we realized bloodhounds were the one tool that might have found him alive in time we thought well they weren’t there for us but let’s make sure they’re there in time for the other kids,” said Don Ryce.
Gunner is still fairly young but is already tracking human scent for about 75 feet. In about a year, when he’s ready for work, he’ll track a lot further. “He’s finding each person, each time so we are excited,” Mendez said.
Sweetwater Mayor Manny Maroño said he is grateful for the gift and promised Gunner will go wherever needed.
“No matter where a child is missing, let it be Sweetwater, let it be Palm Beach, let it be Key West, where ever it is, Jenna and Gunner will be there,” said Mayor Maroño.
Since its creation in 1996, the Jimmy Ryce Foundation has donated more than 300 bloodhounds to police agencies across the U.S.