April 20, 2009
Those Wonderful Search & Rescue Dogs
This past weekend, I was fortunate to meet some members of the Maricopa County K-9 posse, also known as MarK9, and their wonderful dogs.
We do have a couple of search dogs on our own team--Cassie, our ground tracking German Shepherd and Scout, an air-scenting brown Lab--but it's always a treat for me to meet others and see how they work.
Since Cassie joined our team about a year and a half ago, I've read some about SAR dogs, and I'm really interested in what they can do and how they're trained, though I doubt if I'd ever make that big commitment myself to become a handler. For one, I currently have a much-loved pooch of 11 years, who'd not take kindly to sharing my attention. And once Sassy is no longer with us, I think it'll be a long time before my husband and I own another dog. Not with my plans for future, multi-month thru-hikes and our intention to travel as extensively as possible. Someday, I'm sure we'll have another dog, but whether I'd want or be able to put in the time necessary to properly train a Search & Rescue canine would remain to be seen.
Anyhow, during our fieldwork this weekend, I enjoyed watching how each dog alerted differently during exercises. Some would bark, another would do circles (wing-dings, I call them), and one, a Weimaraner, basically body-checked her handler. They'd get so excited when it was time to work, which, as far as I could see, was usually indicated by their handlers putting certain collars, often with bells, or work-dog vests on them.
Also fascinating to me are the various commands and signals that pass between handlers and their dogs. For instance, one handler, Terry, explained to me that there's a difference between the command they give for a live person search and a search for a cadaver, and the dogs actually understand that difference. She explained that the dogs are "proofed" for certain animal bones, so they ignore those of deer, elk, etc. Terry and the others were gracious in answering the many questions my teammates and I pestered them with throughout the day.
Besides the treat of watching the dogs, it was also great to meet members of another team as we sometimes do during big, multi-agency missions and at conferences. I enjoy learning about how they do things--sometimes quite differently than our own team--and what kinds of searches and rescues they've been on lately. I never get tired of the stories.
That's one reason I've put together the Search & Rescue Stories website, where I collect firsthand accounts by rescuers and the rescued and keep directories of websites for SAR teams around the world. I also participate on the SAR-L Discussion List, with topics ranging from techniques, training, management, tips, gear, news stories and more. You can find a list of additional Search & Rescue online forums on my website in the "Articles & More" section.
Anyhow, other than some trainings lately, a litter-carry call that I hear was mostly handled by emergency medical personnel who were notified and quickly responded to the scene, and one 10-22'd call-out for a lost hiker who showed up just as we were loading gear at the SAR building, it's been relatively quiet for the past few weeks or so. Next weekend is the POD (Probability of Detection) and Line Search Training, and then the three-day Navigation "Boot Camp" begins on May 1st. The warming weather certainly makes these activities much more enjoyable.