POLICE CANINE IS ON THE CUTTING EDGE OF CHILD-RESCUE TECHNOLOGY

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DRACUT — He’s trained to track a missing child.

His handler hopes the need will never occur.

Mason, a 2-year-old German shepherd, was donated to the Police Department in March 2006. He’s one of two scent discriminating recovery dogs in the state.

Unlike most police canines, Mason has the ability to pick up an individual’s scent based on that person’s unique smell. Other dogs air-scent and track their target’s adrenaline and sweat according to Mason’s handler, Officer Bill Bailey. Mason’s skill gives him an advantage in situations that do not involve a pursuit, such as a missing child. With an uncontaminated scent source, he can differentiate and track a specific person, while other dogs may not.

Mason trained at Canines 4 Kids in North Carolina for eight months before joining the Dracut police force. He was trained to scent and track from DNA proteins left on toothprints.

The dental identification technology was developed by Dr. Dave Tesini, a pediatric dentist in Massachusetts, as a way to safeguard children against abduction.

Toothprint DNA dental impressions are taken by professional dental personnel using an arch shaped thermoplastic wafer. When a child bites into the wafer, it records individual tooth characteristics and positions and collects DNA in saliva.

Since the wafer is sealed in a zipper-type plastic bag, enough scent remains for a trained dog like Mason to identify.

Having access to an uncontaminated scent source like a toothprint is critical in a search operation, Bailey said. “After so many hours, the chances of finding a missing person goes down dramatically. If the dog starts on the wrong scent, he’s wasting valuable time and he can’t tell you,” said Bailey.

During a training exercise, Bailey places a wafer in front of Mason to give him the scent. He gives a command and Mason takes off like a bullet to find his target. When the mission is complete, he is rewarded with praise.

“Not a lot of people know about this technology right now, but I’m hoping it will catch on,” said Bailey. “As far as I’m concerned, toothprints are the best thing out there to get my dog started and find a missing child.”

In the past year, Mason has successfully tracked down several suspects in Dracut, Pelham and Lowell. He hasn’t had the opportunity to track a missing child outside of his training yet, but Bailey conducts regular exercises so Mason will be ready if the time comes.

“Hopefully we never have to use it in a real situation,” he said.

According to the Department of Justice, almost 800,000 children are reported missing to law enforcement each year.

“It’s such a minimal cost to make your kids that much safer,” said Bailey.

On May 26, The Massachusetts Masons will join the Dracut Police Department and the Massachusetts Dental Society for National Masonic CHIP (Child Identification Program) Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Englesby Intermediate School.

Police and volunteers will be on hand to take free fingerprints, toothprints and DNA swabs of children under 18. Officer Bailey will show video demonstrations of Mason’s tracking skills.

Toothprint kits are also available for purchase through local dental offices or on line at: www.yoursafechild.com. Prices typically range from $3 to 5 per toothprint.

Have a story idea? Contact Heidi Smith at 978-970-4653 or by e-mail at hsmith@thevalleydispatch.com.