Controversy brews over dog as search continues at St. John’s

Penny Bell and her bloodhound, Hoover, were back at St. John’s this weekend, continuing the search for two missing college students.

But in another development regarding the search, an article appeared in the Star Tribune on Sunday, calling into question Bell’s methods, credentials and track record.

The story contained information from bloodhound experts who maintained the best chance for a dog to pick up a scent is in the first 48 hours and no longer than a week. Bell’s dog is tracking the scents of Chris Jenkins, a University of Minnesota student who disappeared on Oct. 31, and Joshua Guimond of Maple Lake, a St. John’s College student who disappeared on that campus Nov. 9.

There were also comments in the story from a Milwaukee battalion chief who disputed Bell’s claims of past success, in addition to reports on Hoover’s lack of accreditation.

Members of the media were not allowed to cover the weekend search at St. John’s because of Bell’s concerns that Hoover would be distracted. But Brian Guimond, Joshua’s father, said a Star Tribune reported showed up anyway, and was told to leave.

“They can say anything they want,” Brian said, defending Bell and her dog. He recounted the recent investigation of the disappearance of a missing California woman. “The head of that investigation said the time frame isn’t that critical with a bloodhound.

“The police here from day one didn’t want to hear anything about the dog and they were saying it was no good the minute it was brought here. They were saying it can’t be done and we’re saying that maybe it can’t with the dogs they have.”

To help establish the credibility of the search effort, Todd Borell, Tom Neu and Bart Lauer of the Maple Lake Fire Department were asked to participate in the weekend search effort, spending nearly 12 hours at St. John’s on Saturday and from 9 a.m. to noon on Sunday.

“She wanted people with a badge, other than the police,” Borell said of Bell’s request. “She feels that firefighters are very credible.”

Maple Lake’s firefighters were also given the task of holding the plastic bags with clothes belonging to Chris and Joshua. The “scent bags” were used by Bell to provide Hoover with periodic scent samples as he tracked the students on the St. John’s campus.

“I was very impressed with the dog handler and the dog,” Borell said, “and very unimpressed with the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department,” citing the uncooperative behavior of a detective present for the search.

Borell said the firefighters were also provided with a brief training session and asked to closely watch Hoover as she proceeded on the search, which helped Bell to verify the dog’s body language.  “That dog did some very distinct things and I was able to catch on to it right away,” he said.

In addition to the detective from the Stearns County Sheriff’s Department, also present during the search effort was a representative from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, a private investigator employed by the Jenkins family, and members of the St. John’s Life and Safety department.

Brian Guimond said that as happened the week before, Hoover showed no interest in Stumpf Lake, which had been the focus of Stearns County’s search efforts. He also said that Bell had ruled out the possibility of Joshua’s return to his car or dorm or that he was taken away from the campus in another vehicle.

“Penny is pretty confident that Josh is on that campus somewhere,” Brian said.  This time, the searchers were allowed into the abbey complex, and Hoover once again picked up the scent of the two college students.

“Josh was physically in the back part of the abbey,” Brian said. “And Chris’ scent was there in two different areas.”  From there, Hoover led searchers down to a lake behind the abbey. Brian said he was told that Stearns County would have divers investigate that lake this week, possibly on Wednesday.

“We did seem to move forward,” Brian said. “But when you’re in my shoes, it’s never fast enough.”