Doggedly Determined: Dog owners sacrifice time, money as members of city’s Technical Rescue Squad

The long-haired German shepherd strains at her handler’s leash, guiding him in a quirky trail around the grounds of Sadler’s Creek State Park.

Having picked up the scent of her quarry from an old ball cap, the four-legged detective is all concentration as she sniffs her way through the woods of the park in search of her goal.

A few minutes later she sits at the foot of her quarry, who is hiding behind one of hundreds of trees in the search area.

“Casey,” the German shepherd, is one of 17 tracking dogs with the City of Anderson Technical Rescue Team participating in a training session Tuesday afternoon. Her owner, Ryan Herring, is a city fireman.

The dogs and their owners spend a few hours each week “on the trail,” training in a variety of surroundings. Some of the dogs are certified man-trailers, others are still in the process of being certified. Their owners also are certified, or in the process of becoming certified, by the National Association for Search and Rescue as search-and-rescue technicians.

They are also all volunteers who sacrifice their time, money, and expertise to help find a missing person, runaway or fugitive. All of the costs associated with becoming certified are paid by the volunteers themselves.

“We train the dogs to be comfortable working in whatever terrain the job requires,” said Carla King, a paramedic with MedShore Ambulance Service in Anderson who volunteers with the rescue squad. “We train in abandoned buildings, vacated houses, and even in cemeteries.”

The dogs are usually one of four breeds: bloodhound, German shepherd, Labrador retriever, or Belgian Malinois.

Each breed has its own unique tracking ability, said volunteer Miriam Bratsher, whose black Lab, Sophie, is a cadaver dog-in-training.

“Every breed, and every dog within the breed, has its own nuance,” Bratsher said. “Bloodhounds will track someone from footstep to footstep. Shepherds will work with their heads down, going along the ground. Labs are primarily air-scent dogs. They sniff the air.”

But, regardless of the breed, the dogs are a valuable asset to the people of Anderson.

Randall Williams, spokesman for Anderson city police, said the dogs are “an amazing tool. I know that our officers consider the Technical Rescue Squad an invaluable resource.”

Police Lt. Wes Barnes has handled and trained city police dogs used since 1996.

“They’re a great asset to the community,” Barnes said. “They really take quite a bit of load off of us, particularly when there’s a cadaver involved. My hat is off to them, because I know the time and dedication required to train tracker dogs, and there isn’t a more dangerous job than tracking fugitives.”

Two of the dogs, bloodhounds named Drake and Luke, are police-certified trackers, said Ryan Herring.

“Just because a dog is a particular breed doesn’t automatically mean it’ll be a good tracker,” Herring said. “They’ve got to have the drive, like you see here with Casey. All I have to do is put on my uniform, and she’s raring to go.”

Developing that drive, King said, is the most expensive part of the process of taking a dog from well-trained pet to a certified tracker.

“Most of the owners spend thousands of dollars by the time the dog is certified by the U.S. Man-Trailing Association as a tracker,” she said. “And because we do the training ourselves instead of hiring an outsider, the costs get even higher when you factor in our time and resources.”

It is a price Herring said is well worth paying. “We feed ‘em, vet ‘em, train ‘em, and love ‘em,” he said. “When we put the harnesses on them and it’s time to go to work, all of us take a lot of pride in helping find someone who’s missing or on the run. It’s rewarding to know we’ve been part of the process.”

No comments: