If youâve been following the news this past week, youâve heard or read about a 10-year-old girl missing in Kotzebue. According to the television news Iâve seen, more than two dozen Alaska State Troopers and FBI agents are involved in the search efforts along with local law enforcement officers, search divers and local volunteers. Vikki and her search and rescue dog, Taiya, are also part of that effort.
I had planned to follow-up with Vikki, after last weekâs column, for more details and information about the Alaska Solstice Search Dogs organization located here in the Valley. When I called her cell, Vikki informed me she and Taiya were in Kotzebue helping in the search effort. In fact, she and Taiya appeared in a couple of 3-second flashes during the video reporting the story on the NBC, KYUU evening news.
Vikki referred me to Stacey, another member of the ASSD group, to answer my questions.
I asked Stacey how many dogs in the group were certified that could have participated in the Kotzebue search. Three dogs from the group were, but two of the owner/handlers have jobs and couldnât get the time off to participate. Vikki is retired and was available, so she went. The Alaska State Troopers are the ones who initiate the S&R call-out for the dogs and handlers.
Last week, I briefly mentioned three of the four types of searches the dogs and handlers generally participate in. Stacey told me the correct name for each of the search types. I had talked about a trailing exercise. Stacey told me that is referred to as an area or wilderness search in S&R jargon. What I called a cadaver search is more properly called human remains detection or HRD. I wasnât too far off when I described the water searches the dogs perform.
I didnât get into avalanche searches last week, so letâs look at that now. The techniques are like a combination of an area or wilderness search and a water search, where the dog roams over an area trying to detect human scent from beneath the snow. The training exercises usually involve hiding somebody beneath the snow surface and working the dog to find where the person is hiding. The dog normally will begin digging where it finds the strongest scent to literally âunearthâ the person.
I asked Stacey who does the actual certification of the dogs and handlers to show they have mastered the search technique being tested. She said several different groups can do the certification testing, but that ASSD usually uses the National Search Dog Alliance. This group has members all over the Lower 48 who can do the certification testing. The dog and handler need to be retested every two years to keep their certification for each search technique current.
If I remember correctly, Vikki and Taiya are certified for all four search techniques. Stacey and her dog, Sally, an Australian Shepherd, are currently certified for both the HRD and area search techniques. Stacey hopes to have Sally certified for the water search work by next summer. The other dogs in the group are all younger animals and, while some have one or two certifications, most are still learning what is expected during training exercises.
The ASSD group receives very little government funding. The costs of dog care, training, equipment, and certification are all generally out-of-pocket expenses paid for by the dog owners. They occasionally receive small grants. Donations from the public are greatly appreciated.
If you wish to send a donation, you can address your envelope to: Alaska Solstice Search Dogs, 2311 S. Carr Street, Wasilla, Alaska 99654. Make the check out to Alaska Solstice Search Dogs.
One other way you can help the group would be to volunteer to be a âwarm bodyâ for the dogs to search for in their area search training exercises. You can contact ASSD through the internet addresses listed above or drop them a note at the listed mailing address to make contact and learn how you can participate during the training exercises.
If you would like to get involved in the search and rescue world, contact ASSD and they can get you pointed in the right direction. Helping to find lost souls in the wilds of Alaska can be a rewarding experience all by itself!