He might have been bored, lonely or just plain mischievous. Only Leo, a Baltimore County police dog, knows why he unlatched his kennel Monday night, pushed open a door at the county canine facility and trotted off into the streets.
His escape prompted a five-hour search that included officers from a nearby precinct, officers from the special operations division and a helicopter, county police said yesterday. And had it not been for a woman who specializes in tracking down missing dogs, Leo might still be on the lam.
FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Maryland section about a missing Baltimore County police dog misspelled the last name of the woman who returned the dog to police. She is Deborah-Marie Lipscomb.
Around 6:30 p.m. Monday, an alarm went off at the Baltimore County Police Department's K-9 Unit on Park Drive in the Baltimore Highlands area. Officers found an open kennel door and no dog. Immediately, the word was put out - Leo, a 6-year-old black Lab who works as a bomb- and gun-sniffing dog - was missing.
But the crafty canine wasn't lost for long.
Mike Benton said he was walking on Patapsco Avenue about 8 p.m., looking for a lost cat, when he saw a black Lab bounding into traffic. The dog looked scared, he said, so he took him home and fed him steak. Benton, a 37-year-old electrician, went to bed, apparently unaware that he was harboring a police fugitive.
Deborah-Marie Litscomb, a Baltimore woman who runs Guardian Angel Pet Locators and Rescue, was told by a friend who listens to a police scanner about the hunt. She was busy celebrating her birthday and didn't leave right away. But about 10:30 p.m., when she heard that Leo still had not been located, she decided to join the search.
Litscomb jumped in her sport utility vehicle and headed toward the K-9 Unit - her instinct told her that Leo wouldn't have gone far. She drove around unfamiliar streets, her car loaded with her usual arsenal of dog food and leashes, her pockets weighted with treats.
As Litscomb whistled out her window on Baltimore Street, a woman waved her down and told her that a neighbor had found a dog earlier that night. Litscomb knocked on Benton's door, and she found herself looking at a black Lab.
"Leo?" she said she called cautiously.
"He turned around and jumped on me and gave me the biggest dog hug," she said.
She waited with Leo in her SUV until police arrived, around 11:30 p.m.
"He was very anxious but well-behaved," Litscomb said, adding that when the officers arrived, "we were all overjoyed."
She said that as the officers played with Leo, she heard one of them say into his police radio, "The suspect is in custody."
Police do not know how Leo was able to escape from the facility, said Officer Sean Vinson, a county police spokesman. Leo is the first police dog to do so, he added.
"We will do an administrative review to find out what happened so we know how to not have it happen again," he said.