Fur-st Responders: K9 Search and Rescue demonstration during Health and Safety Fair
Wandering through the campus Health and Safety Fair on Wednesday, May 2, there was no doubt students were in the midst of community heros and safety workers. Joining the booths this year were some furry first responders that not only charmed anyone they met but also save hundreds of lives every year.
The K9 Search and Rescue teams were ready to meet and greet, offer safety information and give demonstrations of their skill throughout the afternoon.
Serving both Benton and Polk sheriff departments, the teams, made of a handler and a dog, train long and hard every week to ensure optimal performance when an emergency is called in.
Sharpie is a seven-year-old Belgian Shepherd who has been in the program for over 2 years with his handler Dave Vesely. They enjoyed showing off their skills to the public all afternoon at the fair.
Vesely explained that there are several different certifications that a dog can have in the program. Sharpie is a trailing dog. Trailing dogs are given an article with the missing persons scent on it and then they can follow the scent to the owner. There are also area search dogs, where the dog winds back and forth over wilderness in a search without scent. There are many other specialties, including human remains detection dogs, avalanche dogs and ones trained especially for water missions.
Vesely said that, “The certification takes 1-2 years and the participants are often herding, sporting and working breeds,” and that, “Many perfectly good search and rescue dogs come from shelters.”
Sharpie and Vasely used an onlooker to participate in their demonstration and had them wipe their neck with a cloth and go hide somewhere on campus. When offered a smell of the cloth, Sharpie immediately began to follow the scent across grass and roads, following several turns until his powerful nose led him right to the target.
Most of the incidences when the K9 team is called in are when hikers get lost and are without appropriate gear, alzheimer patients who have lost their way and mushroom hunters.
Vasely explained that many people “don’t know how to correctly read a map, and rely on their gps technology, which can often fail.”
The K9 Search and Rescue booth also displayed signs with safety tips. These tips included: always tell someone where you are going and when you will return, never go out alone, be prepared to spend the night, take a compass and a map, and wear proper clothing and equipment.
The first priority when going on an outing is to stay safe and smart. However, It is reassuring to know that should an emergency situation arise, qualified and dedicated teams like Sharpie and Vasely are ready to take action and save lives.
Vasely expressed that, “There is nothing like when a family is missing a loved one and you are able to reunite them. There is nothing more rewarding.”