Recently, Dave and Ryka from K9 Alert Search and Rescue talked to our writers' group about search and rescue dogs. They also did several indoor and outdoor demonstrations, so that we could see the dog in action. Here's what I learned in case I ever include a search or cadaver dog in a mystery.
1. Ryka is certified to search for missing persons and human remains detection (search and rescue as well as cadaver searches).
2. They are part of a non-profit group that assists the Commonwealth of Virginia's Emergency Management and local law enforcement.
3. Police dogs are trained to track all human scents. This means that they are looking for a scent at the scene. They are searching for the freshest trail. Search dogs are trained to hunt for a particular human's scent.
4. Humans are all like "Pig-Pen" in Peanuts. They give off a cloud of scents and skin cells wherever they go.
5. In the past, lost persons in the woods could often be found near water. He said that now they are finding lost people at higher elevations (often because they are trying to get a cell phone connection).
6. Scents are affected by the sun/heat and the wind. Thermals affect how far/high scents travel.
7. Searches for missing persons often include K9 teams, trackers, horse teams, and helicopters. Helicopters are often used for forward-looking searches. He said that the ground teams are usually the ones to locate the missing person.
8. He said that one handler and dog can cover about forty acres in 2-3 hours.
9. Cadaver dogs are trained to do a passive alert when they find a scent, so they don't disturb a possible crime scene. When Ryka alerted, she sat near the area where she detected the scent.
10. He said that if they are doing a search in a building, they often ask for the AC/heat to be turned off because the vents distribute the scent throughout the building.
11. Clandestine graves are often shallow. Many times, they're covered with a small amount of dirt and debris.
These volunteers do amazing work and provide invaluable assistance during times of crisis. I loved watching the camaraderie between handler and dog. To find out more about K9 Alert Search and Rescue, check out their website.