A Crestview man says he and his dog can track lost pets that have been gone for days, but at least one experienced dog trainer thinks that claim is bogus.
Rene Belliveau, 52, said he and his dog Shadow, a three-year-old black Labrador-cross, have located about 14 lost pets in Winnipeg and surrounding areas in the past year. One had been missing for 24 days, he said.
He presently offers the service for free, he said, but intends to turn it into a business.
His Facebook page — Me My Shadow K-9 Tracking & Lost Pet Consultations — says there is a "small fee for these services, please contact me for rates," but reached by phone he said the only fee he charges at this time is to cover basic costs.
"I’d expect they cover my fuel, and if they’re that far out there’s probably a hotel room involved for the night," Belliveau said.
"I’m not doing it to get rich, I’m doing it for the animals."
He said he learned how to train Shadow to track pets with books and online research.
With a fresh, unadulterated source of a missing pet’s scent, such as a blanket or hair brush, Belliveau said Shadow can find a direction and lead him to the general vicinity of the AWL animal.
Belliveau said he usually waits a day or two after a pet is missing before getting involved.
By then, it’s not possible for a dog to track by scent, said Winnipeg Police Service Canine Unit head trainer Sgt. David Bessason.
"I’m not saying he can’t track, I’m saying he can’t do what he’s saying," Bessason said.
Bessason said in his 20 years of dog training he’s seen other people make claims about pet tracking, and he likens it to playing on people’s emotions and giving false hope.
Dogs can only track a scent that is no more than 30 minutes old in the city, and four hours old in a rural area, "in perfect, perfect pristine conditions," he said.
"Think about throwing confetti out of a moving car, where that confetti goes within 10 minutes," Bessason said, to explain how quickly scent dissipates.
Dr. James Hare, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Manitoba, agreed that many chemicals in animal scent are "highly volatile and evaporate quickly."
There are, however, "less volatile compounds that . . . don’t change over time," he said.
"Mammalian scents can be remarkably persistent, and there are well-documented cases of dogs being able to discriminate human scents that are weeks and weeks old," Hare said.
Although Hare conceded canine olfactory ability is not his area of expertise, he has studied animal social recognition and chemical ecology.
The ability for a dog to detect chemical traces from "pedal (foot) glands" up to 21 days is "not unreasonable to believe," he said.
Belliveau pointed to the Seattle-based Missing Pet Partnership and its founder, Kat Albrecht, as an established example of pet tracking.
Albrecht, a former police bloodhound handler and crime scene investigator, created the non-profit organization in 2001 and has published two books on the subject.
In an email response to questions, Albrecht said police dog handlers train on fresh scent tracks, which makes it understandable that they would wrongly believe scent vanishes after 30 minutes.
Dogs properly trained on "aged trails" have successfully tracked people who have been missing up to a few weeks, she said.
Anyone affiliated with Missing Pet Partnership who claims their dog can track a scent trail older than three weeks is violating their code of ethics, Albrecht said.
Belliveau advises contacting the Winnipeg Humane Society, area vets, and phoning 311 as first steps for owners of lost pets.
A post on the Winnipeg Lost Dog Alert Facebook page will mobilize volunteer searchers, he said, and their website — www.winnipeglostdogalert.com — has many important tips for owners.