Search and rescue dog mourned

CLINTON — CLINTON — Trax loved to work.

The Clinton County Sheriff’s Reserve K-9 continued training in search and rescue until just weeks before his death Friday from cancer. Trax, the first dog in Iowa to serve on a sheriff’s reserve force, was 12.

“The search work is what he enjoyed,” said Lois Hall, Trax’s handler, owner and partner. “To the dogs, it’s a big game. It’s hide and seek. And he certainly loved to do it.”

Lois, a sheriff’s reserve deputy, estimates the German Shepherd was involved in more than 300 search and rescue operations in his lifetime, including natural disasters, robberies, burglaries, drownings, suicides, murders, missing persons and evidence recoveries.

Lois and her husband Bill, Clinton residents, signed up as reserve deputies in Clinton County in 1999. They raised Trax from a puppy and started training him when he was just 10 weeks old in 1998, and the dog was brought onto the force when the Halls joined the following year.

The couple’s two other dogs, Hawk, a 6-year-old German Shepherd, and Deker, a 5-year-old Collie, currently serve as reserve K-9s. The Halls hold weekly training sessions and attend numerous seminars across the nation every year with the dogs.

“We didn’t have K-9 units in our community at the time we started,” said Bill. “Basically, we think that we kind of spurred all of that in placing them.”

The Clinton County Sheriff’s Office now has two full-time K-9 units on the force, in addition to the Halls’ two reserve dogs. Sheriff Rick Lincoln said the Halls and their animals have been an asset to both the community and the region.

Trax was certified through the North American Police Work Dog Association, assisting law enforcement and emergency response agencies in six states and in Canada in his lifetime. As part of being trained in search and rescue, he worked in trailing, air scent, evidence search, human remains detection and disaster first response.

Trax was also a nationally certified therapy dog, and regularly visited area hospitals and assisted living centers. The dog received numerous awards through both his work with law enforcement agencies and his involvement with local educational and civic programs.

“He was always eager to train, he was always eager to work,” said Lois. “Everything I asked of him, he did. Whether it was to be a search dog or to be a therapy dog, or obedience-wise, he did it.”

Lois said Trax showed the first signs of illness in May last year, when he began having balance problems in agility exercises. The dog was diagnosed with transitional cell carcinoma, and underwent treatment at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Purdue University in Indiana.

Lois said Trax never lost his drive to work in the months before his death. The Halls continued weekly sessions with him, although they realized the animal would likely never return to active duty.

“He continued to train until just a few weeks ago, because he wanted to do it,” said Lois. “He wanted to go out. He wanted to search, and to leave him in the car was just, for him, devastating. So we would take him out and allow him to train, although at that point, we knew he couldn’t work an actual case.”

As Trax’s condition began to worsen over the last month, Lois said she was with the dog non-stop, and she was able to be at her partner’s side Friday when he died.

The Halls hope to hold a memorial ceremony for Trax sometime early next month. Lois said the dog’s service with the county was unique because he was still considered an active member of the reserve at the time of his death.

“I always wanted to do something with dogs,” Lois said. “Something useful, not just for sport. Having a dog like Trax that could serve the community, save lives, help families recover their loved ones, and provide comfort to those who needed it proved to be the perfect partnership for both of us.”

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