Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Dog Days of Summer

I had the opportunity to photograph some search dogs a few days ago, including a couple who were searching for a live "victim". These dogs are worked constantly, repeated training is essential to keep their skills up to snuff.

They are thoroughly tested and certified  before being able to be deployed and then are re-certified every year, (I think) to maintain currency. Neither the initial certification or the re-cert is easy, these dogs and their handlers have to be on their game in order to get through it.

These dogs are live victim search dogs and are members of a FEMA USAR team. I know some of them and have deployed with a few of them over the years. I must add that most of the dogs that I have deployed with are either retired or are no longer with us as they have a very finite life. It's kind of sad when you think about it.

The game is mostly one of scent, thus an effective search should be started down wind of the area to be searched. Here is Nikko and his handler starting a search of the rubble pile.

Nikko is nearing the "victim" who is actually a Fire Explorer, secreted in the pile. The handler is standing at the base of the pile, a hundred feet away.

 Nikko has found the victim and has alerted.  Nikko alerts by barking, though I'd bet that his handler could tell just by body language when Nikko is getting close.

Nikko is still alerting, even as the victim's hand pokes up through the pile. Now, Nikko will get his reward, a session playing with his toy. Most of the dogs that I have worked around are "play" motivated dogs. They will work for fun!

In a technical search scenario, the victim might not be visible to rescuers, even after detected by the dog. It would then be the job of the search team members to breach into voids and use specialized equipment to peer into the voids. The team has several cameras that can be extended into small openings, providing visual information that can be used to facilitate a rescue.

Next up was Blue, one of the more senior dogs on the team. Some of you older readers may remember Blue, he surprised me one day on the third floor of the training tower. As you can see, Blue is an enthusiastic member of the team, despite his veterano status.

 Blue has alerted his handler that there is a live human buried under the rubble pile.

Hey! He's up here! You!  Put that camera down, this guy could use a hand!

Nikko and Blue are my favorite dogs,each for a different reason. Blue is just awesome, nothing seems to bother him and he is very very good at what he does.

Nikko enjoys being paid attention to and being petted. Most search dogs can take affection or leave it, Nikko really seems to enjoy it.

Besides, how could you not love a face like that!

Though it was near dusk when these photos were taken, it was still in the mid nineties. A lot of the photos showed dog-tongue, they were all as hot as I was. After 10 straight days of triple digit temperatures I think we are ready for the dog days of summer to be over and for fall to arrive.

Thanks for reading,


  1. Good stuff, Schmoe. I like search and rescue dogs - they're the best.

  2. Mad Jack - They are the best. I have to add that as quirky as dog handlers may be - their devotion to their dogs, the mission and their profession is to be highly commended as well.

    Thanks for the comment.