Dogcharmer: Working dogs

Search and Rescue dogs lead to happy and unhappy endings.


My two working dogs were Michelle and Mike, both Dobermans. Michelle found two people alive, and some not alive. Mike tracked a woman 11 miles. They were Search and Rescue dogs. (SAR). Readers, as you’re reading this you are dropping about 40,000 dead skin cells a minute. You and I have about 5 million olfactory cells in our noses; Michelle had over 200 million. The part of a dog’s brain that discerns what the smells ARE, is about 40 times larger than a human’s, relatively speaking. When a person walks into a room and smells a chocolate cake in the making, your dog is aware of all the ingredients in the cake. When your dog smells where another dog peed, she knows the age, sex, and health of the other dog. When you come home and your dog smells your pants, she knows where you were, who you touched, and what you ate. It was Mark Twain who said, “If dogs could talk, no one would own them!” I should also mention that what you can hear at 25 yards, your dog can hear at 100 yards.

All my searches were memorable, but I’ll just mention the highlights of several. A father of two young children took a walk in the afternoon and didn’t return. By the time I was called it was about 10 pm. The house was filled with neighbors trying to help. I needed a clean scent article, something ONLY touched by the father. He was Jewish and religious, and the only reliably clean scent article was his prayer shawl at the top of a closet. Standing right next to the mother and two children so Michelle could eliminate them as needed to be found in case they had touched the shawl, I scented her off it. She picked up his track on the door stoop (dropping all those skin cells every step) and headed to the right. I had her on a 40-foot leash attached to a harness —  the harder she pulls tells me she’s on his track. After over an hour of tracking him through the suburban neighborhood, she took me into the middle of a street, and lost the track. That made me think he got picked up by a car. I went back to the house and restarted her, leaving the house, but this time going to the left, to let her air scent off leash, as the breeze was coming from that direction. A half hour later I was in a park when Michelle’s neon glow ring, which was on her neck so I could see her movements in the dark, started darting around instead of walking. She had picked up the scent! A few minutes later she came back and led me to him. He was lying on his back with a plastic bag over his face. It was now about 4 am in November, and between the cold and my exhaustion I was initially freaked out, thinking I was looking at some kind of alien until I realized it was a plastic bag on his face. The cop with me said, “How come you’re acting so happy and giving the dog treats when we got a dead body?” “We found him because of the dog, she needs to be heavily rewarded!” was my answer. Next was the awful task of telling a wife and two kids of the find. Over my objections, it was ruled a suicide. Who kills themselves with a plastic bag?

Once, during a bad snowstorm in New Jersey, Michelle and a bloodhound were interested in a particular tree, but conditions were so bad at that point the search was called off until the blizzard abated. When we returned to continue the search we went to that tree to start, and the missing lady was a suicide hanging high in the tree. After that I made sure to include hiding up high in trees as part of the training regimen.

Got a call about 8 pm for a missing lady. She and husband were arguing about directions, at which point the husband said to the wife, “OK, you drive!” When she got out of the car he drove off (to punish her?) and came back 5 minutes later to pick her up. But she was nowhere to be found, and the husband swore she had to have been kidnapped. I scented Mike off the car seat and he picked up her track immediately, which resulted in me being dragged 11 miles to her home. The wife was so angry that she hid when the husband came back for her, and then proceeded to walk the 11 miles to her home. At least a reasonably happy ending.


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