So when Abel’s grandmother sent his mother, Cindy Ritenour, a scent preservation kit from Scent Evidence K9, she had two reactions — one as a mom, and the other as the administrative aide for the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement Bureau.
“I thought it was a great idea, not only for my family, but for anybody who is a caretaker for an autistic child or an elderly person with dementia since they are at risk of getting lost,” Ritenour said.
An American Pediatric Association study shows that almost 50 percent of autistic children will go missing at least once by the age of 17. The numbers are even higher for adults with dementia — 6 in 10 will get lost at some point.
Abel is “a runner,” Ritenour said, and as a result is one of those 50 percent with an increased risk of getting lost, especially now that he has started school at Park Elementary.
“Abel has a SafetyNet bracelet (which can be tracked using ground- and air-based antennas), but refused to wear it, so I had to find a way to hide it in his pocket every day,” Ritenour said. “He may be able to get it out, though, so having another way to find him is good for peace of mind. I also know that they could be useful for our K-9 teams, so I wanted to try to get enough to be able to offer them to those in need in our community.”
Ritenour researched the company and how the kits are being used by other agencies. The kits are a simple concept: a gauze pad and a jar. The pad is wiped under the arms and across the chest, then sealed inside with the information about the person on a sticker that is placed on the jar. There is also a decal that can be placed at the home so law enforcement knows a scent preservation kit is on site.
That simple idea, though, can make a life-and-death difference in an emergency. Instead of looking for a scent article for a K-9 to use at the beginning of a track, the kits offer a perfect sample for the dogs to use when they start their search. Because it has been sealed since it was created, the scent article is still fresh and is also not contaminated with any other odors.
“Having a good scent article is key to starting a successful K-9 track,” said Sgt. Kyle Albritton, who leads the HCSO K-9 Unit. “One of these kits could definitely save somebody’s life.”
Paul Coley, the company founder, is a former K-9 handler himself, so he knows the challenge K-9 units face when attempting to locate a lost person. He said that a recent study used a kit that was 4.5 years old for a successful track, and other studies suggest the kits could be good for as much as 10 years.
The kits are produced by a mostly student workforce near the campus of Florida State University in Tallahassee. Coley started the company in 2012 as a way to help K-9 units train, but the mission soon spread to “bringing the lost home.”
Ritenour presented her idea to Glades Electric Cooperative, and was awarded a $2,000 grant that paid for 140 kits, and Scent Evidence K9 donated another 24 kits. The kits, along with the already established SafetyNet program, give the Sheriff’s Office two ways of helping ensure that those at risk of wandering can be brought home safely.
“Cindy is to be commended for taking the initiative of realizing these kits would be a good tool not only for her family, but also for others,” Sheriff Paul Blackman said. “Her work to get a supply of these kits for local families makes me proud.”
If you are a caretaker of an autistic child or an adult who is at risk of wandering, contact Ritenour at 863-402-7206 to get one of the Scent Evidence K9 kits. If you would like to get one of the SafetyNet bracelets, contact Nell Hays at 863-402-7369.
For more information about Scent Evidence K9, visit scentevidencek9.com.