Zeus is a mixed-breed Labrador retriever with a special gift: His black, moist nose is thousands of times more sensitive to smell than a human nose.
The 8-year-old search-and-rescue dog is a member of the Rhode Island State Police.
So he had a mission to complete Monday morning in North Providence: a 76-year-old North Providence man with dementia and Parkinson’s disease was still missing after more than 24 hours.
Richard Cote had gone for a walk early Sunday morning, at about 5 a.m., and vanished. Various searches and a “Silver Alert” issued by the North Providence police had been unsuccessful. His family was worried.
Following a frigid night and heavy rainfall Monday morning, Zeus and his master, state police Trooper Charles Bergeron, were called in.
Information from Cote’s family and from the police pointed to a brush area to the rear of the sports complex at Rhode Island College.
It was probably the most secluded place where Cote was likely to get lost and not be seen. It was close to his home.
On the scene, Bergeron’s command to Zeus was hopeful: He did not say “Look for it” — the command for finding a dead body.
The trooper gave the command for a rescue. “Search him out,” he told Zeus.
Dogs have highly developed nasal passages lined with scent receptors that hold smells, according to Science Magazine.
This is part of the reason why Zeus has many advantages over any human when it comes to smell. He even knows when one of his nostrils has taken in a scent that’s different from the scent received in his other nostril.
It took Zeus several years of training to maximize his search skills after the one-year-old was adopted by the state police about seven years ago, Bergeron says.
The mature professional K-9 was in prime form Monday and unfazed by the rain. Off his leash, he prospected his way through the trees and navigated thickets of brush.
About 20 to 25 minutes into the search, recalls Bergeron, it looked like he had a scent. When Zeus’ nose picks up a strong scent, he instinctively moves to another location and intentionally finds a weaker version of the same scent, says Bergeron.
The dog’s nose builds a range, which then helps him judge the location of the strongest scent.
In 2013, Bergeron took Zeus on a boat and the K-9′s nose pinpointed the body of a drowned 16-year-old, which was submerged in waters near Conimicut Point.
On this search Monday morning, Zeus zigged and zagged through high brush, Bergeron recalls.
The dog drifted off to the left with his nose up, he says. Then, he drifted to the right.
Then, he picked up the pace, moving his paws more quickly, nostrils flaring. Finally, from a distance, the 49-year-old trooper saw Zeus sit down next to something that was bright red. Bergeron remembered that Cote’s wife had said her husband was wearing a red bathrobe.He wasn’t certain at first if the man was alive. Cote was face down. Bergeron turned him over.
“As soon as I turned him on his shoulder,” the trooper recalls, “He was breathing.”
So this is how Zeus saved a life. And Cote, disoriented and suffering from hypothermia, numerous cuts and bruises, was taken to Fatima Hospital where he was expected to recover from his ordeal in the woods.
Photo source: The Providence Journal/Mark Reynolds
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