Last week on a very hot and humid day, KYK9 assisted in a search for a missing person in Hart County, KY, which is 90 miles from Louisville. The search was in a very remote wooded area with hilly terrain. The ultimate outcome of this search was excellent and the missing person was found alive due to the excellent efforts of the Hart County Search and Rescue Squad (HCSAR). I felt honored to be part of their team for the day.
HCSAR worked seamlessly with our K9 teams. First and foremost, they requested K9 search assistance immediately, which is the best way to use K9 search teams. Upon arriving at the scene, incident command asked how many backups our K9 teams needed and we requested 2 each. K9 Scout and I were promptly assigned 2 flankers, Joe and Jason. Joe is a member of the HCSAR and Jason is a hunter and friend of the family.
Joe and Jason were by my side all day. They walked with me up steep inclines, through woods and briars and stuck to me like glue, which is hard to do. They created a safe environment for me as a K9 handler to focus on my dog. After watching each of them work, Jason quickly trusted Remy and Scout, and he made excellent observations, making us a better K9 team.
After searching 4 hours with Scout, Jason did not hesitate to head out with me again when K9 Remy unexpectedly took trail back into the woods. (Joe would have come too, but he was already helping another K9 team!). As those of you who follow KYK9‘s blog know, Remy is a unique problem solver and searches “outside of the box.” She took us down a long dirt path to a red, white and blue cow gate which served as the entrance to a small cluster of old campers and a rundown cabin. Remy took us straight to the front door of the cabin where the trail ended. When I took Remy behind the cabin, down a little rickety board walk, she gave her fear alert, stopped in her tracks, and would go no further.
Each search dog has a unique fear alert, which only manifests itself during actual searches (not training). I have seen Remy’s fear alert on multiple searches. Her body language changes, and for an 11 pound dog, she becomes incredibly difficult to move when she freezes in her tracks. A fear alert for Remy means something bad is ahead and she does not want to go any closer. Jason saw Remy’s behavior change, noting it out loud to me. Such independent affirmation is helpful both on a search itself and in the debriefing room or courtroom later. Yet, the concept of a fear alert is often looked at askance by non- K9 handlers.
As Remy gave her fear alert, Jason heard a loud crash in the woods (not a deer). Later we both heard a loud thump. I felt “creepy” in a way I have never felt before. Jason felt we were being watched. And, it turns out he was right. The missing person, Marty, had slept the night before on the front-porch of the cabin. When we came down the path late the next afternoon, Marty was on the ridgeline. When Marty was found, he said that he watched Remy, Jason and I come down the path, heard Jason yell for him, and watched Remy go to the cabin. The crash Jason heard was Marty hitting and breaking his cane on a tree trying to get our attention. Marty was about 60-80 yards from Remy when she alerted. Remy had found Marty. Thank you Jason for believing in Remy and Scout. And thanks HCSAR for using search dogs as a tool in your efforts to find a missing person.