I had the opportunity this week to be a victim. Actually, we call them subjects as victim has such a negative connotation. One of the team members on my Search and Rescue team had reached a milestone and her dog was ready for a 30 Acre Heavy Brush Test.
Well, I was volunteered to be the subject of the search. We are having a nice early winter right now so the only problem that we had was finding a suitable location of sufficient size that we could use for the test. This of course needed to be done somewhere that there was no danger of the dog being shot. What, shot? It is hunting season in Western New York right now and there are lots of people in the woods with weapons. Not all of them respect a dog running through the woods wearing an Orange vest that says SEARCH DOG on the side of it.
The late season also presented a few problems as most of the tall grasses that are high and healthy in the summer have died back after the frost.The conditions for this test are that the dog must work in heavy brush, not impassible brush but thick enough to obscure the dog’s view and over his back. Eventually, we located a protected bit of State Land that was banned from hunting and had sufficient cover.
We located a good place for me to hunker down and I set out my ground cloth to keep my backside dry, a nice foam pad so that I was insulated from the cold ground and covered up with a Camouflaged cover to make myself a bit more invisible and to make sure the dog had to use his nose. The wind was light and variable and I was just over the top of a rise. This had the effect of changing the wind 180 degrees from the prevailing wind as it looped up over the top of the hill and swirled back on itself where I was located. A bit of a challenge but not horrible for the dog if the handler got him into the right place.
The radio indicated that they were starting so I read for a bit and then took a nap in the sun. 2 hours later I get awakened by a wet nose in the face. I had been found. Now the dog did his job but the handler messed up a bit and the grids she traveled had crossed over themselves. This was a small navigation error but ended up failing her on this test. Navigation is a part of the test and the area is only supposed to be covered once.
So, 2 days later we set up another test in a different part of the park. The wind was a bit more consistent this time at 7-10 MPH. This time, I heard the radio indicate that they were starting and approximately 5 minutes later the dog found me. Apparently, he had picked up my scent from over 100 yards away as they started the test. Off he went and made the find. This time the whole test was over in a few minutes and was a success!
This goes to show that when searching for a lost person in the woods, conditions can make all the difference in the world. We as handlers are tasked with getting the dog’s nose into the right place for them to make the find. Sometimes the conditions can be difficult and other times the conditions can be favorable. We are out to save lives so it behooves us to be the best at what we do. Training and consistent action may make the difference in whether someone survives their ordeal in the woods or becomes yet another statistic.