Most people and organizations try to keep their dirty laundry under wraps. Nobody needs to know those little secrets or mis-steps that haunt the past. But if you live in a home with someone who’s at risk of wandering, dirty laundry could save your loved one’s life.

K9 Ruger taking a quick sniff of the family laundry hamper.
K9 Ruger taking a quick sniff of the family laundry hamper.

One of the little challenges when we’re called to a search is getting a scent article for the missing person. If we’re in the woods, no problem, we don’t really need one. The dogs will find anybody who’s out there. But when someone with dementia or mental health challenges wanders off in a populated area, we need a scent article so the dog can pick them out from the masses.

It can be very difficult getting an item of clothing that only the missing person has touched. Dirty laundry is the perfect scent article, with one big exception.

Here’s the scenario: little brother goes missing, so big brother is first told to check around the neighborhood and find him. When big brother has no luck, the police are called and SAR teams get dispatched. But big brother has now also laid a scent trail around the area. If the two boys have been sharing a laundry hamper, there’s enough transfer of odor that we’re as likely to follow big brother’s scent as the one we want.

Let me say that again: the K9 nose is so darned good that if two people have shared a laundry hamper enough of each one’s scent will transfer between items that anything from the hamper is useless as a scent article.

If you have someone in your home who is at risk of wandering, they need their own laundry hamper. If they’re capable, encourage them to place their clothing in the hamper themselves so no one else even touches it until laundry day.

If your loved one goes missing, we dog handlers prefer to come in and collect the scent article ourselves. We don’t care how messy your house is…..I mean…..we have dogs. You oughta see our houses. We just want to do the best job we can of finding your loved one.

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