The Origin of the Bloodhound on the Patch

By Myron Robb and Mike McMillan

The image of a bloodhound forms an important part of the Contra Costa County Search and Rescue Team’s shoulder patch. As Evan Hubbard wrote in the March 2010 issue of the Callout, an early revision to the patch (1979) added the bloodhound. Contra Costa SAR was the first search and rescue team in the state to use bloodhounds. Here’s how that came to be:In 1970, Myron and Judy Robb began raising bloodhounds in Walnut Creek, primarily as show dogs. In 1976, Judy, and friends Bev Mestressat and Lynn Hanson, were invited to give a working bloodhound demonstration to Contra Costa SAR. That demonstration was so effective, it led to the formation of the Sheriff’s Office bloodhound unit and by the end of the 1970s, the SAR team was organized into seven divisions: Bloodhound/Tracking, Communications, Equestrian, 4x4s, Medical, Support and Explorers.

The bloodhound unit’s third callout was for a high-profile case at the Lafayette Reservoir on Nov. 14, 1978, in which a 40-year-old female jogger went missing. Her car was found in the parking lot. Judy Robb and K9 Pita arrived at the search, but were unable to get a proper scent article, so Judy scented Pita off the woman’s car door handle.

After 20 minutes of trailing, the bloodhound led her to the woman’s body about 65 feet off the trail, concealed in heavy underbrush. Their excellent work on this case set the scene for a busy SAR career for Judy, Pita, and members of the CoCoSAR bloodhound unit and in 1982, Judy and Myron were named the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Office volunteers of the year for their contributions.

From left to right: Lora Fults with Zack, Cindee Valentin with Annee, Carol McCoy Drolet with Tango, Eloise Anderson with Twist, Chris Boyer with Scout, Jenny Ward with Peaches, Carol Martin with Sammi, Joe Jacques with Hooter, Karen Mingus with Diablo, Ingela Tapper with Einstein, DeAnn McAllan with her dog, Bonnie Brown Cali with Aero, Candice Valentin with Tatum, and Carol O'Neil with Maggie. Kneeling in the center are Jacque Nushi with her dog and Judy Schettler with Callie.

In just a few years, the bloodhounds and their handlers became well known throughout the state. From this basis in bloodhounds, the SAR Canine Resource grew to include a number of breeds. In 1998, the resource included 16 handlers and at least five breeds, but it’s the bloodhound that remains the icon on the team’s patch. 

Myron retired in 1993 and he and Judy moved to a log home in the Ponderosa pine forests near Pioneer, Calif. Judy passed away in July 2010. Myron continues his interests in bloodhounds as second vice president of the American Bloodhound Club and treasurer of the northern chapter of Bloodhounds West. Mike is a member of CoCo SAR and is raising Baskerville, a bloodhound puppy.

In The Beginning: How The CoCoSAR Team Got Its Start

Over the years, the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team has evolved from a small group of eager citizen volunteers from a local Jeep club, to a full-scale, 200-plus-member team of well-trained professional volunteers. A quick look back at some of the things that have changed gives some perspective to how much the team has grown, and not just in numbers.

A Brief History
In the mid-1960s, under the direction of Sheriff Reserve Coordinator Sergeant Herman Rellar, Contra Costa County formed the first version of a county search and rescue team. The fledgling group was composed of the Sheriff’s posse, a Sheriff’s Ranger equestrian group, and the Air Squadron Aviation group. It consisted of about 75 Reserve Deputies. In reality, this was not an official search and rescue team, nor did it operate as such. There was no real organization (as is the standard today), and when it came time for a search, there was no formal callout procedure to activate its members.

Due to its ineffectiveness, the unit was disbanded in the late ’60s. But Sergeant Rellar was unwilling to give up. He believed there was a real need for a volunteer team with four-wheel-drive vehicles to go off road to assist the Office of the Sheriff in finding lost and injured people. So, in the early 1970s, he was put in charge of a new Search and Rescue Team. By 1974, what is now known as the Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue Team (CoCoSAR) officially began.

While Rellar was the impetus for the team from the Sheriff’s Office side, team founder Ed Besse was the driving force behind CoCoSAR from the volunteer side. Besse was tasked with building the program and he did so by recruiting through two local 4×4 clubs, the Diablo Four Wheelers and the Contra Costa Jeepers. Besse also hooked up with a local amateur radio group called REACT (Radio Emergency Associated Communications Teams), a group that eventually evolved into the current RACES program. The SAR Team was made up of off-road enthusiasts and CB radio enthusiasts in its early years.

Moving Forward
While the science and business of Search and Rescue has drastically changed from the early days, some things have not changed; the team still prides itself on its professionalism and takes the job seriously. Management and technology improvements (and hard-earned experience) have increased the professionalism and team capabilities to new heights. But one thing remains true: It is the SAR volunteer that ensures the team’s success.

A little over 10 years ago, the team still relied primarily on team members’ personal vehicles and gear to respond to searches. Through active department support and fundraising, the team now has an incredible cache of gear and department-owned vehicles solely dedicated to Emergency Services. The communications equipment, computer technology and team infrastructure is world-class and has truly evolved over the past decade.

In the early years, the department vehicles the team had were donated vehicles from other agencies. As you can imagine, they took a lot of TLC to be maintained. The first official county vehicle for SAR tech rescue use was a 1957 panel truck dubbed the “Jimmy.” (The Callout issue of February 2010 has a story about the Jimmy. See the archives on the website.)The first communications van was a hand-me-down standard van from Chevron. And there was a 1969 Power Wagon affectionately dubbed “Rescue 1.” While a powerhouse of an off-road vehicle (when working), it more often then not broke down in the field and needed towing back to the corp yard for repair.  Rescue 1 was actually often rescued itself.

The days of hand-me-down vehicles are over and in the past decade we’ve been afforded a variety of new and re-purposed vehicles that give the team a strong fleet with which to perform the SAR mission.  In the old days, we as a team would have been ecstatic to receive vehicles such as our current 12-year-old Expeditions. Soon they will be traded out for brand new F250 quad cabs.         

The SAR patch has undergone only two alterations since its inception. The emblems on the patch represent a variety of SAR disciplines from the early days of the team.  (The Callout issue of March 2010 has a detailed story about the patch.)  These alterations were the result of the team’s evolution. 

One thing that hasn’t changed since the early days is the team’s appreciation for the canines, even though the training and personnel have changed over time. In this issue is the article "The Origin of the Bloodhound on the Patch," which talks specifically about the team’s use of bloodhounds in search and rescue and gives a better understanding of why the bloodhound is featured on the patch we wear today. 

We'll present other aspects of the team’s beginnings in future Callouts.

Thanks to Barb Becerra for her research. Barb has spent many hours chatting with long-term and former team members to learn about the team’s history.

Evolution of the 24-Hour Pack

 A key element of being search-ready is having a fully stocked 24-hour pack.  Contents of the pack are discussed in the Type 3 Academy and each new team member is expected to have the items checked off as a condition of graduation.  Today’s pack list has evolved over the years through constant evaluation and revision.  It’s interesting to look back on what SAR recommended members carry.

The February 1977 issue of Contra Costa SAR’s Lost and Found, the predecessor of today’s The Callout, listed the contents of an “Automobile Survival Kit” in three elements: an automobile first aid kit; equipment for personal comfort and safety or life support; and emergency equipment for comfort, safety, and life support.  The following lists are taken from that issue:

AUTOMOBILE SURVIVAL KIT:

Components of this vital kit may be found in most homes and garages.  Any vehicle can be considered a movable, second home.  Always carry a few items in case of delays, emergencies, or mechanical failures.”

Automobile First Aid Kit

  • Sealable plastic container (holding):
    • 2 compress bandages
    • 1 triangle bandage
    • 1 small roll of 2” tape
    •  6 3×3 pads
    • 25 aspirins
    • 10 band-aids
  • Knife
  • Scissors
  • Bar soap
  • Tube of Foile (for burns)
  • Ampoule of ammonia inhalants
  • Green soap disinfectant
  • Needle
  • Safety pins
  • Matches”

Personal comfort and safety, or life support

  • Empty coffee can, 3 pound
  • Dry foods (crackers, rye crisp, etc.)
  • Freezable liquids (diet food drinks)
  • Chocolate bars (4 or 5)
  • Small can of fruit (303 size) and can opener
  • Woolen blanket or sleeping bag
  • Matches (for fire)
  • Candle

Put all dry foods in the coffee can which can also serve as emergency stove or water container.  In vehicles used for outdoor activities, walking shoes and complete change of old usable clothing is advised, as well as a raincoat.”

The third group, emergency equipment for comfort, safety and life support, included a variety of tools including: tire chains, heavy rope or tow cable, multiple screwdriver set, pliers, short garden spade, pruning saw or axe, small kit of assorted nuts, bolts, small springs, and nails, plastic tarp (9×12 ft), water bucket, electrical tape, small file, six feet of soft steel wire, and signal aids (flashlight with extra batteries and flares).

As you can see, we’ve progressed pretty far in the past 35 years from ammonia inhalants, canned fruit with can opener, and water buckets.  It’s also interesting to consider what the next generation of searchers will carry 35 years from now (in 2047): some type of solar-powered, miniaturized, and computerized link to an all-purpose replicator.  Some believe with increased use and effectiveness of GPS, cell phones, and personal locator beacons, there may not be as many lost people in the future.