When it comes to life-saving skills, no one out-barks them
BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- When people are stuck in the snow or lost in the woods, Deschutes County Sheriff's Search and Rescue will be there. Sometimes, the 150 rescue volunteers need help. That's when the K-9 team steps in.
"They tend to say about a search dog is they can do the job that it would take 20 to 30 people to do," said Joe Stacks, a Search and Rescue volunteer.
Joe and Maddie, his 7 1/2-year-old Border Collie, joined the DSheriff's Office Search and Rescue K-9 team four years ago.
The team's job is to locate lost or missing people. In the last two years, the group has gone out on 21 missions around Central Oregon.
"The amount of happy endings that they are responsible for, life saves as well, is just amazing," said Bryan Husband, a sheriff's lieutenant and Search and Rescue coordinator.
These SAR K-9s specialize in several search disciplines. Joe and Maddie are nationally certified in avalanche rescue.
"For her, it's just a big game,” Joe said. “I have some nerves getting ready for it."
Maddie can quickly find someone buried under six feet of snow, 200 feet away. Speed is key, as Joe said there's a 90% survival rate if Maddie locates the person in the first 20 minutes.
"It's very critical you get your dog in there fast, in her case she might get flown in by AirLink (helicopter) to the debris field," Joe said.
Joe and Maddie are also training to become locally certified in Life Find Area Search. That's a discipline Jenny Reindel and her 4-year-old German Shepherd, Hunter, are nationally certified in.
Hunter can use human scents in the air to find someone within 80 to 120 acres.
"He'll just go in, he'll find the person, and then he comes back to me, he barks at me enthusiastically, and then he takes me back to the person," Jenny said.
Jenny and Hunter are also nationally certified in human remains detection. Hunter can locate dead bodies, or parts of bodies, in almost any setting.
"My job has been to train her to be not hunting birds, and instead hunting to find people."-Chris Cassard, partner of 4-year-old Lila
Husband said Search and Rescue K-9 teams do not require a certain breed, as it's all about the drive in the dog. The trick is to make the dogs think it's all a big game.
"These dogs thrive of off that game nature, and they're looking for the prize at the end of their search, their successful search. And that's what's motivating," Husband said.
A typical training exercise for Live Find Area Search dogs is having a subject hide behind a tree, for example, and then letting the dog try to find the subject.
Chris Cassard and his 4-year-old dog Lila, a Brittany breed, are in that training right now, on their way to becoming like Madde and Hunter.
"Doing area searching, where she needs to run through acres and acres of ground is perfect for her,” Chris said. “It's what she was bred to do. My job has been to train her to be not hunting birds, and instead hunting to find people."
Husband says it can take up to 550 hours of training for volunteers and their dogs to become locally certified. After 1 1/2 years, Chris and Lila have 400 hours under their belt. They are one of four volunteer-dog pairs that are in training right now.
Training a human remains detection dog is a bit different. Their work is more meticulous, and requires patience.
The training would not be possible without source material donated by the public, including bones, teeth and muscle fragments. Jenny hid three those items in different places so Hunter could put his talent on display.
"He really will have to use his nose, because it's really important that he pinpoint exactly where the source is,” Jenny said of Hunter. “So he'll work the area, and then when he knows exactly where that is, he'll lay down."
That's exactly what Hunter did. He found all three hidden human remains.
These dogs certainly have difficult jobs, but so do their owners. Joe said he's logged about 550 volunteer hours this year alone. It's a time commitment he's all too familiar with since joining the team in 2013.
"It was my wife's idea,” Joe said. “It's something she probably regrets now, because it takes a lot of my time up. It's very time consuming but very rewarding too."
It's not just time these volunteers are spending; it's money, too. Jenny said she's spent about $10,000 getting Hunter properly trained.
"It's been years of work, but it's something I love more than just about anything else,” Jenny said. “It's a joy to do it."
After all, these dogs can be the difference between life and death.