Rocky isn’t quite what you might expect of a hero.
Watching him lumber around a park, even his handler calls the 95-pound bloodhound “dopey.”
“He’s just a big oaf,” Giovanni Morella said.
But ever since arriving in 2007, Rocky has been working at the Normandy Park Police Department, where his olfactory skills are frequently called upon to aid investigations.
Rocky has special talents because bloodhounds have especially sensitive noses, allowing them to follow specific, aged scents. That means, unlike other police dogs, he isn’t limited to pursuing the smell of adrenaline, but can follow a scent from an object the person left behind.
That skill paid off last month when Rocky helped search for a 7-year-old Puyallup girl missing for several hours July 10. After 20 minutes of tracking a scent from the girl’s shoe, Rocky found her a few hundred feet away.
She was bloodied, covered with dirt and barely able to speak.
Puyallup police said the girl had been playing outside her home at the Glenbrooke apartment complex in the 700 block of 43rd Avenue Southwest when a 14-year-old boy dragged her into the woods.
The boy sexually assaulted the girl and then choked her until she passed out, police said. A teenage suspect was found that night and arrested.
Police Capt. Ryan Portmann said this week that the girl was expected to make a full recovery.
Tracking the girl was fairly easy for Rocky in part because wooded areas tend to keep scents longer, Morella said.
But she was concealed by thick brush and sticker bushes and law enforcement officers probably wouldn’t have looked there on their own, he said.
“She was pretty thick in the woods,” said Morella, whose arms still show faint remains of the sticker bush encounter. “Who knows when they would have found her.”
Rocky came from 832 Deputy Dogs, a Florida-based nonprofit organization that breeds, trains and donates bloodhounds to law enforcement agencies.
He was 14 months old when he joined Normandy Park police. Since then, Rocky’s had no brushes with danger, mostly because he tracks innocents more often than suspects.
Morella estimates the 7-year-old hound has gone on hundreds of calls. Most often he’s asked to find missing children but he gets other types of calls, too.
He recently was brought out to find a man who allegedly killed his ex-wife. The man left a suicide note and fled in a car. Officers located the car, but asked for Rocky’s help finding the man in a wooded area. Other officers found the man’s body but Rocky was able to lead authorities along the path the man took to where he’d killed himself.
To demonstrate Rocky’s tracking skills, Morella and a fellow Normandy Park officer, David Bond, put the hound through his paces.
Bond, playing the missing subject, left a hat nearby for Rocky to track. A motion from Morella indicated the article Rocky needed to sniff, and the dog was off on the trail.
Despite distractions from some noisy kids and a pressure washer nearby, Rocky followed the exact trail Bond took, and found him in the nearby playground.
Rocky’s special talents include what happens when he finds what he’s looking for. Regardless of who’s at the end of the track, there’s no biting.
“Which means we can use him to find suicidal subjects, missing children and older adults,” Morella said. “He’s like a 3-year-old that wants to play hide-and-go-seek, but he’s really good at it.”
Some officers have raised concerns about having a dog that doesn’t bite, but Morella notes officers without dogs arrest suspects all the time, so having an animal that doesn’t bite isn’t an issue.
“It’s just a change in tactics,” Normandy Park police Chief Chris Gaddis said of nonaggressive dogs. “It’s a resource we would love to see more readily available.”
Gaddis, formerly a K-9 handler, said dogs can cause problems if they accidently bite innocent people. Not having that worry means Rocky’s training can focus on the tracking, rather than obedience.
“Obedience isn’t really important for these dogs, because they’re always on a lead,” Morella said of the gentle-natured dog. “It’s all just a big game to him.”
Though Rocky is laid-back, he generally knows the difference between business and pleasure. He picks up cues from the attitudes of people around him and from Morella when the officer puts Rocky in his K-9 harness and lead.
“When we’re on a regular walk I’ll love him up all day long,” Morella said. “But not when we’re on a track — unless he finds the person we’re looking for.”
After finding the missing Puyallup girl, some of the other officers offered to buy Rocky a steak.
Instead, Morella stopped at a grocery store on the way home to get Rocky’s favorite treat: bologna.
Leah Traxel: 253 597-8670