GREENVILLE — Dogs were out in force last Sunday in Greenville, but it wasn’t all fun and games for this canine set.
All SAR K9’s, a non-profit organization which trains dogs to assist first responders in locating missing persons, was at Tecumseh Point Preserve, running their animals through search and rescue training scenarios. Ten dogs, with their handlers, were on site.
Keitha Meyer, one of the directors of All SAR K9’s, said one of this day’s training exercises involved finding three missing people.
“The scenario is that members of the football team are hazing a student. They accidentally catch his shirt on fire and he runs into the woods. Two cheerleaders follow,” she explained. “The object in this exercise is to find all three of the individuals. Once the dogs finds the boy, they will then find the other two.”
The exercise used three volunteers from local high schools acting in the roles of the missing students. All dogs successfully completed their tasks as trained.
Meyer and her sister, Sharon Karns, each have trained dogs to perform the skills needed to be a search and rescue dog. Accompanying them Sunday were “Eva” a 3-year-old German Shepherd, and “Spirit,” a litter mate of Eva’s. The two dogs are certified for trailing, but are in the process of learning how to area search.
Another dog, “Adele” an 11-month-old Cane Corso, owned by Don and Tammi Doggett, was starting to learn trailing on Sunday. She was joined by another Doggett canine, “Tess,” a 1.5-year-old Belgian Malinois.
Meyer explained that while many of the search dogs are German Shepherds, many other breeds can be trained and a dog’s age is not necessarily a factor.
“When I started out six years ago, we had a German Shepherd who was five when we started training her,” said Meyer, pointing out that some dogs are adopted from rescue shelters.
There are four basic disciplines search and rescue dogs can learn:
- Trailing: A dog follows the path of an individual through a variety of terrains. Dogs can follow a specific human trail through a heavily used area for up to two weeks.
- Area or wilderness search: A dog searches a specific area (up to 50 or 60 acres) for any person in that area without a specific scent article. This is helpful when a large area needs to be searched quickly.
- Cadaver (or human remains detection): A dog searches to indicate a location where a person has died. Living humans have a unique odor, while all deceased people smell the same to dogs.
- Article search: A dog locates an item that has a human scent on it, not necessarily for a person. Sometimes, article search dogs are used by law enforcement to find stolen items tossed away by a criminal hiding evidence.
Search and rescue dogs are utilized by law enforcement, fire departments, park rangers and emergency organizations. The group, however, won’t use the dogs by private request.
“We’re not allowed to deploy unless one of those agencies call on us,” Meyer explained.
Dogs in the group earn certifications in certain skills and training logs are kept in order to determine which dogs can best perform a given search.
And it isn’t only the dogs who undergo training. The handlers themselves also seek to become adept at a variety of life-saving skills, gaining certifications in First Aid/CPR, land navigation, crime scene preservation, and incident protocol. They use proper radio communications to keep in touch with other handlers and with first responders.
All SAR K9 dogs are assigned to perform their tasks in a number of areas in the region, including Darke, Auglaize, Shelby, and Miami Counties in Ohio, and Union City, Indiana.
All the handlers do this on their own time and at their own cost, Meyer explained.
“It’s about helping people,” she said. “You don’t realize the trauma that these people go through when we get called. It’s not always a happy result, but it ends up in closure for them.”
The organization wished to express its thanks to all the volunteers who turned out, as well as the Darke County Park District, and Hamilton Auto Sales for the use of the property for the training.
The group does not charge any fees for its services to first responders or to families. It does accept donations for expenses, including one run through Kroger Community Rewards program. The organization’s number for Kroger rewards is 86157.
For more information on All SAR K9’s, go to the group’s Facebook page at “All SAR K9s Inc.,” or call Sharon Karns at 937-216-0070 or Keitha Meyer at 937-541-9485.