“Do you want to lay a trail?” From that moment, I was hooked.
It was June of 2015, I had just come off the road from a long week of communications and safety support for OK Freewheel, and I had heard via Facebook that a friend of a friend was working with canines in the field of search and rescue. The canine team was going to be training at a nearby lake and I wanted to see how the dogs worked.
This, however, would not be my time to see it. Priorities at that time kept me from seeing the dogs work in June, but a couple of weeks later, things started to come together again. K9 Search Oklahoma hosted a two-day event and brought the whole team together along with a friend from a local emergency management group for an overnight exercise and mock search.
I showed up in my yellow Xterra, the “kool bus” as my friends know it, decked out in my gear for communications support, and I in my ARES shirt from an event that morning. After a couple of hours of mingling with the team and getting to know names, I was assigned to a team to perform a “hasty search” of an area with two others from the team. We must not have been “hasty” enough, because that radio I was carrying kept crying out with commands from base to go faster.
After finding a handful of clues and getting more information about our fictitious lost subject, we began to work with some of the canines according to their different disciplines, and started searching much larger areas, performing some sign cutting, GPS and paper logging, and practicing our “clue awareness.” As night fell we called off the activities and returned to base for dinner.
Dinner was excellent and was followed shortly by that phrase which rings out many times each week, “do you want to lay a trail?” It was now my job to get as lost as I could within about 250 meters and leave something at the base for the dogs to use to learn my scent. It wasn’t long before I heard four legs and tags on a dog collar getting close. Then, I could hear him breathing. Then, in the flash of an eye, a tongue came out and licked my face, before the canine ran back to alert the handler to his find. Normally, I learned, they will only run one dog on each trail, to avoid teaching them to follow their teammates’ scent. On this night, however, I was greeted not once, but three (maybe four) times by a wet nose trying to find my unique aroma.
Then, to watch the canines work while someone else was hiding — man! What a rush! The drive, excitement and sense of accomplishment they feel when they get their noses down and start racing toward their mark, finally finding it and getting the reward for a job well done.
Months later, after many hours of training, I took an exam and earned a SARTECH III certification from NASAR, the National Association for Search And Rescue. This certification is like a gateway drug to encourage you to try something bigger – to get that next rush.
Now, after about nine months of training, I went this last weekend to a workshop in Arkansas hosted by Clark County Emergency Management. At the workshop, I passed a 150-question written exam with a score of 96% and passed five “practical stations” to test skills of knot tying, sign cutting, route searching, area searching and land navigation to earn a SARTECH II certification.
I’ve learned that when you’re driven to succeed and have a burning desire to serve your community, it’s very easy to get stuck always working for the next certification or the next “big thing” in your field. I need to remind myself that money doesn’t grow on trees, though! A lot of time and money goes into a volunteer building a set of skills and equipment to properly and effectively conduct a search, and the opportunities to give time and money don’t go down when you add more members to a team. The benefits of working on a team are fantastic, and these benefits do grow with the team, as long as proper care is taken to preserve the community service spirit and each member has an interest in being a professional.
I look forward to many more years of “doing the most good for the most people” and bringing to bear the full weight of my abilities to help find those who are lost and return them to their family.
What are some of your passions? What have you learned along the way? Do you have any tips or tricks to share to help encourage others to conquer their fears, to work hard and to achieve great things? Share them below.