Szeci, Statz Help Find Missing Child

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Matt Geiger
Middleton police officer Howard Statz holds up his K-9 part- ner, Szeci. Statz and Szeci helped locate a missing toddler last weekend.

TOWN OF PERRY–Night was not far away. And night, out in the country, surrounded by woods and cornfields, where the coyotes’ howls bounce off of the ancient driftless landscape and seem to warp creation, can be a scary time for a lost two-year-old. It can be an absolutely terrifying time for his family as they call out his name and search for clues as to where he has gone. 

As loved ones and first responders scoured the landscape in the Town of Perry late Friday afternoon, they came across what a police officer called “one little boot print” in a small patch of quickly-melting snow in a cornfield. Soon after that, Szeci, the hulking police dog that was running over the soggy ground, following the boy’s trail, did something that made his handler stop in his tracks. 

“He had a really dramatic head snap and looked north to the woods,” says officer Howard Statz, who was called in with his dog from Middleton Police Department to take part in the search. 

It was 3:02 p.m. when Dane County deputies, along with Mount Horeb Police, Fire and EMS personnel, were sent to the 1000 block of Perry Center Road for a report of a missing toddler. 

While playing outside, the two-year-old became separated from siblings and could not be located. An initial search by family members was unsuccessful and the toddler had been missing for more than an hour in a wooded, rural area, according to police. Additional resources responded, including a Dane County UAV team, Dane County Detectives, the Middleton Police K9 unit, DNR personnel and teams from the Iowa County Sheriff’s Office. They even had drones. But the clues were not in the sky; they were on the ground.

Statz and Szeci had just started their shift when they got the call. The human half of the team saw they were the closest available K9 unit. They drove to the countryside just past Mount Horeb, where they came up with what Statz called “a pretty good game plan.” 

Different dogs have different styles of tracking. Szeci’s is fast, rushing after the strongest, freshest odor. They showed him the little boy’s pillowcase, as well as the child’s favorite toy. 

“My dog picked up right away and we were off to the races,” Statz recalled. 

“The wind was in our faces the entire way…which is the best luck you can get,” he added. 

Some of the terrain they covered was thickly wooded. Then they moved out into a field, where they came across the lone footprint.

“That was a really good moment,” Statz said. “We knew we were onto something.”

The primary task at that point wasn’t finding the trail; it was keeping up with Szeci.

“I can’t move as fast as him,” said Statz. 

The searchers located the child, who they said was cold but showed no signs of injury. He was evaluated by EMS and confirmed to be uninjured, according to Mount Horeb Fire and EMS chief Jenny Minter. He was reunited with family back near the house. 

Once they knew the boy was safe, Statz’s focus shifted, and he gave Szeci his favorite toy.

“I wanted to make sure my dog knew he did a good job,” he said. At the end of the evening, the missing child was safely home with his family. At the end of their shift, Szeci and Statz headed home to theirs.

The Dane County Sheriff’s Office would like to thank all of the area responders who assisted with the search and safe recovery of the child.

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