San Jose boy, 4, sneaks off, search dog finds him at Jungle Island
By Lisa Fernandez

lfernandez@mercurynews.com

Posted: 04/09/2010 12:11:30 PM PDT
Updated: 04/09/2010 04:04:07 PM PDT

Klaus, a 9-year-old German Shepherd from Los Gatos, found a missing 4-year-old...

A 4-year-old boy sneaked away from home and his mother's watchful eye and was missing for two hours, until a search and rescue dog named Klaus' sniffed him out Thursday to a nearby indoor play center.

"When I first heard about this, I thought, 'Oh, no,'" said Dirk Parsons, a spokesman for the San Jose Police Department. "But I'm glad it turned out well. A lot of times, when children are missing for so long, the stories aren't as good."

Parsons said the mother noticed her son had slipped out the door of the family's apartment at 5200 Camden Ave on Thursday about 1 p.m. She began searching. But 45 minutes later with no luck, she realized she needed help. She called 911, and officers soon began scouring her apartment, in the closet, under nooks and out back by the pool.

When that didn't work, police called Santa Clara County Sheriff Search and Rescue volunteers.

Kristine Black, a teacher's aide at Redwood Middle School in Saratoga and a 10-year search and rescue volunteer, got the call.

The Los Gatos canine handler was 10 minutes away, and showed up with her 9-year-old German shepherd, Klaus, to the family's second-floor apartment. Klaus sniffed one of the boy's blue shirts, and after casing the apartment, made a sharp right out of the complex onto Camden Avenue.

"Then he became very animated inside a laundromat," Black said. "And my heart dropped. It's one of your worst nightmares. Kids love to hide in dryers."

An officer opened the row of dryers and fortunately find them all empty.

Moments later, Klaus headed out the laundromat across the alley into the Jungle Island, at 5401 Camden Ave., a children's indoor play gym, with climbing structures, ball pits and a video arcade. It's about a half-mile away from the boy's apartment.

"Klaus got really animated again," Black said, "in the arcade area. He sniffed a joystick on one game, and a seat on another."

Then the dog headed to the big, colorful ball pit — specifically, a giant plastic tube over the pit.

"There were four or five kids in there having a blast," Black said.

And the missing 4-year-old was one of them.

"He didn't know he was missing," Black said.

A police officer carried the boy home, and Black went there shortly afterward carrying the boy's shoes, which Klaus had also sniffed out and retrieved from the play center. All children who play there must take off their shoes. It's unclear at this point how the boy slipped in; admission is about $8 and children are typically banded on their wrists to show they've entered properly. A general manager did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.

When Black and her German shepherd witnessed the boy's reunion with his mother, about 3 p.m., Black said "everyone was in great spirits."

"You could see the relief on the mother's face," Black said. "It's something I'll never forget."

Contact Lisa Fernandez at 408-920-5002.