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The dog teams of the Search and Rescue K9 Unit (SAR-K9) are members of the Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue Unit and work under the direction of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office to locate lost people. The members of this elite SAR unit are strictly volunteers and own and train their own dogs.

Being a search and rescue dog team is more than volunteer work, it is truly a lifestyle. Members of the team must be ready to respond to a search and rescue emergency call out any time, day or night. To ensure that each dog and handler is properly prepared, the dog teams of Snohomish County Volunteer Search and Rescue attend a minimum of two meetings a month. They attend trainings for their basic search and rescue skills on a regular basis and are doing some form of dog training, daily.

The dog teams pay for all their own equipment, dog supplies, and vet bills and are not reimbursed financially in any way. Dog teams volunteer because they care about lost people. They volunteer because they care about the family and friends of the lost people. They volunteer because they love dogs and love working them.

There are 3 types of search dogs in Snohomish County. Specifically, “area search” dogs (also known an as “air scent” dogs), “trailing” dogs,” and “cadaver” dogs (or “human remains detection” dogs).

Area Search (Air Scent) Dogs are primarily used in the wilderness setting where a hunter or hiker may have lost their way. The dogs are worked off leash. These dogs are trained to quarter through large amounts of acreage in an attempt to locate human odor molecules in the air.

When the dog comes upon these odor molecules, he then pursues the odor all the way to its source, in this case the lost human. Then the dog has been trained to return to its handler and indicate in some way that it has indeed located a human. The indication can be a bark, a jump onto the handler, or a tug on a toy. With the “Show Me” command the dog then takes the handler all the way to the lost person’s location. There the dog is rewarded with playtime with a toy or fed a special food treat.

Area search dog handlers must be comfortable in the off-trail wilderness setting and possess good navigational skills. Also, unlike trailing dogs, these dogs are not trained to disregard the scent of other humans and only look for one specific person, rather their focus is to find any human. As such, they are not as effective in urban settings.

Trailing Dogs are used primarily in urban settings where a person with Alzheimer’s or dementia, or a child has wandered away. These dogs are trained to work on a harness and a long line. They can be utilized in populated areas contaminated by lots of human scent because they have been trained to ignore all other human scent and only search for the human whose “article” was offered to them by their handler.

When a trailing dog handler arrives on scene, one of the first things they do is to interview the reporting party and obtain a “scent article”. This scent article is an item that would have a large amount of the lost person’s odor molecules upon it; it “smells” like the lost person. This scent article will be offered to the trailing dog to sniff, and the dog will then attempt to locate that odor on the ground from where the person was last seen. The dog is actually looking for odor emanating from microscopic skin particles left on the ground as the lost person walked along. Trailing dogs can follow scent trails that are minutes old or up to many days old. The more time that passes from the point the person goes missing to the point a trailing dog is being utilized to locate them the more difficult it can be due to the decrease in the amount of scent available to the dog. Wind, temperature and precipitation all have an affect on scent.

Trailing dogs are usually among the first responders when someone is missing in the city. Trailing is a very difficult discipline and it can take years to train a trailing dog team.

Cadaver (Human Remains Detection) Dogs is the third type of dog available to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office These dogs are trained to locate deceased humans in whole or unfortunately, in many cases the partial remains, due to criminal or animal activity. These dogs are often used in the event of a suicide victim in a remote wilderness region. They also assist major crimes detectives to locate homicide victims. These dog teams help to bring closure to hurting families.

The long-term goal of Pennies for Puppies© is to provide reasonable level of financial assistance to these canine volunteers and by extension, to their handlers in the form of equipment, food, and medical help.

Service Dogs

Service Dog Springfield (a female golden lab) and Service Dog Buck (a male black lab) are both trained, raised, and housed by Search and Rescue Volunteer Christine Bunn.

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