November 3, 2008
Dogs search for scent of missing Killawog woman
Searches cover hundreds of acres Saturday but turn up no signs of Bethanie Dougherty
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Rita Argiros, right, goes over the area to be searched with K-9 units in Upper Lisle Saturday morning. Searchers were looking for any signs of Bethanie Dougherty, missing since April 1.
KILLAWOG — Teams using cadaver dogs did not find any leads Saturday during their search for Bethanie Dougherty, who disappeared from her home April 1.
The group of nine volunteers from the New York State Federation of Search and Rescue Teams searched an area of more than 1,000 acres near the Tioughnioga River, retracing some of their steps from an earlier effort.
Three teams using five scent dogs made their way through the forested and swampy land outside the village of Marathon, hoping to find any remains or signs of a shallow grave.
“Right now, we’re operating under the assumption she is dead, and these dogs are trained to look for human remains,” said Rita Argiros, a K-9 handler with the Eagle Valley Search Dogs.
Argiros added dogs showed interest in some locations during their Oct. 3 search, so Saturday’s objective was to test how dogs would react again.
After the search Saturday, she said there are still some areas to follow up on, but there has been nothing conclusive.
“The strength of a lead all depends on the strength of the scent and wind conditions,” Argiros said. “If a dog gets a hit, it could be anywhere from a quarter mile away.”
The dogs are trained to have a “passive alert,” such as jumping up onto the searcher, or resting on the spot where they detect a strong scent.
“These dogs are trained to search for human remains, but it’s hard to pinpoint something,” Argiros said. “We used different dogs in different spots we searched before to see if they could get the same reaction.”
Looking at a map of the area, Argiros said dogs could show interest in a particular spot, but that would not necessarily indicate a lead to Dougherty.
Pat Thompson, an Amigo Search and Rescue Dogs K-9 handler, said piecing these reactions from the dogs together is what makes the search process difficult.
“Our dogs are trained to react only to what they think are strong sources,” Thompson.
Most of the dogs have been trained for several years, since they were puppies. The Eagle Valley team used a mix of breeds, such as German shepherds, Labradors and Dobermans.
Syracuse resident Amir Findling, a man-tracker trained to look for signs of human remains and Eagle Valley volunteer, said certain differences on the ground in the middle of the woods can become very apparent to a trained eye. Findling said looking for signs of a shallow grave is relatively easy, especially in a wooded area that few people travel through.
He added this search is made more difficult given the lack of hard evidence in the case.
Dougherty was last seen wearing purple pajamas at 10 p.m. on April 1 by her oldest son Logan. At 3 a.m. on April 2, neighbors on Jennings Creek Road called police after hearing screams. Police found nothing, but Dougherty was reported missing later that day. Police have searched hundreds of acres around Dougherty’s home and up and down the Tioughnioga River looking for clues.
Dougherty’s family members offered a $15,000 reward in June for anyone with information leading to her whereabouts.
A missing persons tour sponsored by the Community United Effort held a rally Aug. 25 to generate awareness about Dougherty’s disappearance.
Dougherty’s father, Terry Curtis, also issued a news release on Oct. 21 asking for local hunters to look out for signs while in the wooded areas of Marathon, Killawog, Lisle, and Whitney Point.
Family members were not present during Saturday’s search. Argiros said another search is being planned, but no specific date has been set.
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