Joanne’s Search and Recovery Dogs – How It All Began!
Joanne T. and her 3 dogs have been involved in “Search and Recovery” since 1998. She says it is the most rewarding thing they have ever been involved in! Maybe this is something you and your dog should consider…
It all started with a flyer…
It all started with my 3 year old Border Collie, Elle. I could see that she was an extraordinary dog with untapped talents. So, when I read about a demonstration on service dogs, particularly those involved in “search and rescue”, I thought this might be our calling. With Elle’s leash in hand I went to the meeting with high hopes. I was so fascinated by the role the dogs and their handlers played I made sure I spoke to the presenter after the meeting. She told me about another meeting the following week — I attended and was hooked!
While Elle and I originally started out learning “search and rescue” — which involves searching for missing persons in hopes of finding them alive — I soon learned there was a much stronger demand for “search and recovery”, especially in my area of Texas. While not as high-profile as search and rescue, search and recovery is the process of searching for, and hopefully recovering, human remains. An essential part of police work and giving loved ones closure!
The training is grueling and intensive but the payout is worth all the hard work!
It takes about 2 years of training along with attending seminars around the country in order to be sure that both handler and dog are qualified to do the job. The training is grueling and intensive but the payout is worth all the hard work! Training teams of volunteers met every week for 4 to 5 hours each time. At each training session every dog and handler gets the opportunity to work several simulated situations and then their performance is evaluated. The preliminary training goes on for many months – but it actually takes years of constant training and experience to ensure that both dog and handler are completely qualified.
All of our search work is voluntary and we are not paid anything for our service – we do it because it is a necessary service we are proud to provide. We assist law enforcement and other emergency management organizations by providing dog teams consisting of canine, handler, and support personnel. The dogs are trained in areas such as air scent search, trailing and land and water cadaver search. That means they are capable of locating remains by “trailing” from a last know point to find those who have walked away from a site and become lost, finding victims who have been buried in debris and locating victims of drowning even under several feet of water.
In 2000 I started training my 2 year old Border Collie, Murphy and in 2003 Brody joined our efforts and began his training. (To keep them in shape between “jobs” all three compete in flyball.)
Of course, locating remains is the ultimate goal of any search and recovery team but, NOT locating remains is also important. It helps rule out an area and thus relocate their efforts.
My dogs and I have been called upon on many occasions including…
The “Killing Fields”
This is an awful area in South Texas where, over the course of 40 years, it is presumed that 30 women have been abducted and disposed of. In October, 1999, Texas Monthly Magazine did an article on the “Killing Fields” that included a picture of me with one of my dogs during a search and recovery mission looking for buried bodies. While my efforts that day did not reveal anything the search continued.
Some good has come from this horrible tragedy
Tim Miller (whose daughter was an unfortunate victim) started Texas Equuasearch — a group of volunteers, many who search on horseback, looking for missing people and children.
The Laura Recovery Center was started after the abduction and murder of Bob Smithers daughter in 1997.
I know both these groups and they are very dedicated to helping the missing and their families. I have been out with each group on several searches.
Space Shuttle Columbia 2003
One of my most memorable experiences involved the search and recovery effort after Columbia exploded over east Texas. My dogs and I were called to the Lufkin area where debris was strung across fields, front yards, and roof tops. We were there to help locate the crew’s remains. For 4 very intense day’s volunteers, including myself, Ellie and Murphy, searched a field that was down a ditch from the road. The field had large clumps of trees surrounded by standing water. While searching the water Murphy got extremely animated and started tasting the vegetation — which is the signal that he was “in scent”. While clearly there was cadaver in that water the pieces were so small Murphy could not pin point a location. Later in the search I was informed that just across the road from where we were working remains were found.
Hurricane and Tornado Help
When hurricanes or tornados hit in South Texas area the local Sheriffs ask volunteers to help clear areas covered with debris. My dogs and I have been called upon numerous times to aid in the search of lost loved ones.
While the work is exhausting it is worth every minute to know that what we can make such a difference.
Please let us know if you or someone you know has a service dog that should be celebrated. I would love to post their story!