NEW PORT RICHEY — Buster’s bloodshot eyes narrowed to slits. As he rested his jowls on the floor, his wrinkled, floppy ears spilled around him.
An 11-week-old bloodhound, Buster is the newest, and youngest, member of the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.
After a few moments in front of a small crowd on Thursday, he stretched his paws in four directions, then went still.
Around him, a chorus of sheriff’s personnel — including the sheriff, himself — responded with a simultaneous: “Aw!”
A product of Lake County, Buster was assigned recently to sheriff’s Cpl. Chris Miller. He is the only bloodhound in the sheriff’s K-9 unit, which now totals 16 dogs; the others are German shepherds.
“He’s definitely a welcome family member,” said Miller, who also will care for and house Buster.
Bloodhounds have a reputation for possessing an outstanding sense of smell, due to an olfactory membrane with 300 million receptors, much greater than a German shepherd’s 225 million receptors or a human’s 5 million, according to the sheriff’s office.
Bloodhounds also are known for their ability to detect smells longer than a German shepherd.
Thanks to his high-powered sniffer, Buster, who was purchased for $800, will work calls about missing children, missing and endangered adults, and escaped criminals, among others.
“Most children walk off on foot,” said sheriff’s Lt. Chuck Troy of the Major Crimes Unit. “(Bloodhounds) can just differentiate smells better. In schools, where there are lots of students walking around in the same area, they can pick up a specific scent.”
A bloodhound’s smell-detection is aided by its long ears and wrinkly skin, which helps sweep scents to its nose, said sheriff’s Sgt. Clint Cabbage. Bloodhounds also are able to track nose-down for long periods of time.
Miller said a bloodhound’s work ethic is as remarkable as its olfactory gifts.
“They’ll work themselves to death,” he said. “They’ll literally go ‘til they fall over. They go ‘til they catch something.”
So far, Buster — Miller said some colleagues suggested he name the dog Flash, in contrast to his laid-back demeanor — has acclimated himself well to his new environment.
“He has more of a whine than a howl right now,” Miller said. “And he’s not really sure about riding in the truck. He just kind of lies down, but after it stops, he’s like, ‘What just happened?’”