A spunky five-year-old, she had dimples when she laughed and
soft doelike eyes that sparkled below a ragged fringe of coffee-colored hair.
She loved to fly kites, to dance to Little Richard songs, and to watch The
Little Mermaid on television. Alie giggled her way into the hearts of her
neighbors and had just shared a pizza with one of them when she disappeared.
neighbor was one of the last people to see the child alive on that tragic
evening in May 1993. She left the little girl sitting outside her Englewood,
Colo., apartment while she slipped back inside to put away the leftovers. When
she returned moments later, Alie was gone.
"She knew better (than to go with
strangers),'' Alie's distraught mother told a reporter the next day. “But she's
also only five years old. She loved people, and that was one of the things that
made her special. Now, I'm afraid it was one of the things that made her a
Police launched a door-to-door search of the Denver suburb, while
friends and family kept a hopeful vigil at the Berrelez home. Newspaper
headlines begged Alie's kidnapper to release her so she could get the asthma
medicine she needed to help her breathe. Local businessmen began raising reward
money for information leading to her safe return.
Despite the concerted
effort, police were stymied. Three days after Alie's disappearance, they had no
clues, no suspects, and a “lot of frustration.'' So they decided to call in a
specialist: a canine “cop'' known as Yogi.
A bloodhound with floppy ears and
enough skin to cover two dogs, Yogi had joined the K-9 Unit of the Aurora
(Colo.) Police Department in 1991. The Berrelez case gave him a chance to prove
that he was blessed with “an incredible nose,” according to his handler,
Officer Jerry Nichols. Days had passed since Alie's disappearance, rain had
fallen, and hundreds of people had tramped through the neighborhood in their
search for the missing girl. The kidnapper had probably abducted Alie by car
and was most likely miles away by now. Englewood police doubted that Yogi could
pick up the trail.
But skeptics didn't faze Yogi. Starting from the front step
of the apartment building where the Berrelez family lived, the dog beat a
steady path, following the scent he'd picked up from a piece of Alie's
clothing. Tail up and nose down, straining against the long leash held by
Nichols, he trotted confidently toward Broadway, one of the busiest
thoroughfares in the Denver area. He snuffled down Broadway for several blocks
and led officers onto the interstate. The searchers hopped into a patrol car
and headed west on Colorado 470 past Chatfield Reservoir, stopping to let Yogi
out at each exit until he found the point at which the kidnapper had left the
After about seven hours and 10 miles of tracking, Yogi was wilting in
a midday sun so hot that it could almost melt asphalt. Nichols knew that his
dog would keep going until it dropped from exhaustion, so he decided to call it
quits for the day.
Englewood police resumed the search the next morning,
beginning at the mouth of Deer Creek Canyon, where Yogi had left off. Searchers
began combing the woods along the two-lane blacktop road that climbed through
the canyon and into the foothills of the Rockies. Just before noon, two of them
found a khaki duffel bag at the bottom of a 20-foot embankment, only a couple
of feet from Deer Creek and only a mile or so from where Yogi had stopped the
The hunt for Alie Berrelez was over. The girl's body was stuffed
inside the bag, still dressed in the Oshkosh denim jumped she'd been wearing
when she disappeared. Precious Alie had smothered to death.
Berrelez story has no happy ending, Yogi did at least free Alie's relatives
from the limbo that they'd endured for five long days.
“In a way, we haven't
lost her because she's with the Lord,'' Alie's grandfather said in a stoic
statement to The Denver Post. “We feel better knowing that we don't have to
worry anymore.''??In 1993 -- four days after Alie's body was found -- the Post
called Yogi a ``miracle dog'' and howled his praises by saying: Even the
experts were dumbfounded by the abilities of Yogi, a common-looking bloodhound
with extraordinarily uncommon skills...
“This is probably one of the longer
tracks by a police dog,'' search coordinator Sgt. Byron Wicks said of Yogi's
work last week. “I have never heard of such a thing.''
Following the scent for
10 miles, along busy traffic thoroughfares, was an impressive accomplishment.
But following the scent after three nights and two days had passed was even
Experts explain that human dander carries a person's unique
scent and acts much like an airborne pollen, dispersed onto the ground and
vegetation along its path. The explanation is, at the same time, both sensible
and also unbelievable.
But to most civilian observers, Yogi's performance was
nothing short of miraculous.
According to Nichols, Yogi could stalk a person
traveling in a car even if the windows were rolled up, because the person's
scent could seep out of the vehicle and onto the pavement, sidewalk, curbs and
vegetation nearby. It could remain there for as long as a month. Rain actually
enhances the scent and makes the hound's job easier.
Yogi had yet another
contribution to make to the Berrelez case. The day after Alie's body was found,
he and Nichols returned to Deer Creek Canyon to try to pick up the scent of the
girl's killer and trace it back to its source. That led back to a neighborhood
apartment in the Englewood complex where Alie had lived, leading police to
believe that a neighbor committed the crime. Unfortunately, however, the case
was not solved and no one was arrested.
Yogi's role in the Berrelez case
attracted the attention and admiration of people far beyond Denver and its
sprawling suburbs. The National Police Hall of Fame awarded the dog a medal for
“outstanding canine service,'' and the Colorado Legislature presented him with
a commendation for meritorious service. The impressed lawmakers invited the
hound right onto the floor of the House to get both his award and some
appreciative pats on the head.
“They don't give those (awards) to dogs very
often,'' Nichols proudly pointed out. But as the officer himself once said,
“Yogi did all the work. All I did was hang on for the ride.''??In 1994, ABC
featured Yogi in its weekly news magazine program, Day One, comparing him with
the fictional bloodhound who died stalking Paul Newman's character in Cool Hand
Yogi began his career in law enforcement not long after Nichols bought
him for $350 from a Colorado Springs bloodhound breeder in 1989. The officer
was planning to name his pet Fred, but his wife and oldest son vetoed the idea
and christened him Yogi instead.
For about a year, Nichols tutored Yogi with
the help of a Jefferson County sheriff's deputy who had trained two hounds for
his own agency. In the fall of 1990, Nichols started using Yogi in
missing-person cases, and by August of 1991, he'd convinced his superiors that
the goofy-looking bloodhound would make a valuable addition to the force. They
agreed, and the pooch was allowed to doggedly patrol the streets each night
from the back of his master's police truck.
Nichols didn't try to hide the
fact that he has mixed feelings about his tongue-lolling, tail-thumping
partner. On the one hand, Nichols acknowledged, the bloodhound could “out-track
and out-run any other dog.''
“The bloodhound is very unique,'' he said. “There's
no dog that will work harder for you. They'll run themselves to
“These dogs have an innate sense of smell that has no equal,'' he
once said. “Tracking is their life.''
On the other hand, Nichols griped, Yogi
was a “slob,'' a “klutz'' and a “pain in the butt.'' The officer wasn't a bit
surprised that, in a study of canine intelligence, rating more than 140 breeds,
the bloodhound finished almost dead last. Nichols sometimes referred to his
100-pound partner as “Bonehead'' or “Knucklehead'' -- but not without a hint of
affection in his voice.
The list of Yogi's bad habits was almost as long as
the _expression on his face. The dog sometimes let loose with some “very loud
and very obnoxious'' howls. He drooled constantly and liked to chew on anything
made of wood, including the siding on Nichols's house. Yogi was “very
affectionate,'' the officer admitted. “People liked him and he liked people. He
was very gentle -- if you don't mind getting slobbered on. I usually carried a
little rag with me.''
In fact, at the end of a long day with his nose to the
ground, Yogi’s reward was “getting to slobber (on) the person he's tracking,''
Nichols once said.
Fortunately, Yogi's list of accomplishments was much longer
than that of his foibles. Over seven years, Yogi worked on 476 cases involving
seventy different agencies in eight states. Yogi helped put 27 murderers behind
bars. In addition to the Berrelez girl, he hunted down a teenager wanted for
the murder of a state patrol officer. He helped find three robbers who stole
$80,000 from an armored car. He looked for Alzheimer's patients who wandered
away from home and prisoners who escaped from jail, drunk drivers who walked
away from accidents, and people trapped in collapsed buildings. He even helped
a local historical society locate graves more than 110 years old.
working despite suffering from bad hips and enduring a case of the bloat, a
gastric disorder that can kill a dog. Yogi worked right up to the time of his
death, in June 1998, from cancer. Just a few days before he died, he assisted
in a manhunt in which a Denver officer was killed and another was
About the time Yogi died, Nichols and his wife Milica organized the
Law Enforcement Bloodhound Association, a group that promotes the use of
bloodhounds in law enforcement efforts around the world. They’ve got members
from as far away as Italy, Germany and Israel. As a police officer, Jerry
Nichols worked with two more bloodhounds, Copper and Max, before he retired in
late 2005. But Jerry and Milica have continued their work with the bloodhound
association from their new home in Anchorage, Alaska. They help train
bloodhounds and their handlers, and they’ve written a training manual, Common
Sense—The Bloodhound in Law Enforcement. “We don’t make a dime on anything,”
Milica said. “This is just our passion. We’ll do it ‘til we drop.”
only inspired the Nichols’ passion for bloodhounds, but he inspired others. For
example, Jeff Schettler, then a police officer in Alameda California, convinced
his superiors to bring a bloodhound on board after he watched a story about
Yogi and Alie on television. “While the outcome was tragic, I was amazed at the
time (three days) and distance (fourteen miles) it took for Yogi to find the
girl. I wondered why such a valuable police tool was so infrequently used,”
said Schettler. Bloodhounds have proven themselves enough that, in some
jurisdictions, the evidence they uncover is allowed in court. They are the only
dogs whose work can be considered as evidence in legal proceedings.
Berrelez's grandparents were so impressed with Yogi's capabilities that they
started a fund to buy bloodhounds for law-enforcement agencies. It was a way
for them to cope with the loss of Alie.
Over the years, they placed dozens of
dogs. The first went to work for the Cherry Hills (Colo.) Police Department.
The Berrelez family named it Alie -- in memory of a beloved child who was
brutally robbed of her future.
"Gayle C. Shirley, Amazing Animals of
Colorado, Incredible True Stories, The Globe Pequot Press,Copyright 2005"