VIDEO-READY TO RESCUE: Trussville man trains to find the lost
By David Lazenby
A Trussville speech pathologist who owns a German Shorthaired Pointer and a daschshund is a dog enthusiast in more ways than one.
At least once per week, Geoff White spends a portion of his spare time volunteering for a group that trains dogs to search for lost individuals.
White, 46, who works for the Blountsville branch of Amedisys Home Health, volunteers for the Birmingham-based Red Mountain Search Dog Association. Once or twice a week, the non-profit group, which currently has 10 trained volunteers, mimic real-life scenarios that could occur if someone becomes lost, whether it be on the labyrinth of trails in Red Mountain Park or other areas of central Alabama.
The organization works in groups of two or more volunteers that always includes one dog. These groups are made up handlers and canines trained and certified by the National Association for Search and Rescue. Handlers give commands to their search and rescue canine and watch their dog for alerts that indicate a find. The handlers and their dogs are accompanied by flankers, which is the role White performs.
“What we are offering is a volunteer service to law enforcement and first responders in central Alabama-area for finding missing or lost persons, whether they be children who have wandered off from a camp site or an Alzheimer patient who has wondered off away from an adult center,” he said.
A major part of his responsibilities is to make sure his team does not itself end up lost during a search, which can be in fairly remote areas.
During each practice mission, White is equipped with an amateur radio, maps, first aid materials, a compass and a global positioning system device. He assists the handler monitoring the dog, helps navigate the course and helps as the team clears” areas to ensure a thorough search.
White and other volunteers take turns simulating lost individuals during training sessions and the canines use scent carried by air currents to locate these lost “subjects”. Once found, the canine alerts the handler and leads them back to the subject to complete the mission.
White said he is often approached by dog owners who believe their pets would be ideal dogs for the volunteer organization. All dogs require evaluation to determine their potential.
White said breed is not always as important to success as a search and rescue dog as is temperament and physical stamina.
“You need dogs with the physical ability to manage out in the woods — dogs that will not get fatigued and tired,” he said, adding that “dogs’ temperament also plays a major role.”
“They have to have a high prey drive,” White said. “That means they have a strong desire to work, but also to please and return to alert the handler with their find.”
White added the dogs also have be extremely obedient and focused.
White said another crucial component is concentration ability.
“There’s a lot of distractions in the woods. The dogs we use have to be intelligent and they have to be able to solve problems,” he said.
White said he let his German shorthaired pointer give rescue dog duties a try. However, he said his beloved pup didn’t have the right stuff.
“Not all dogs are equipped to be certified Search and Rescue trainees,” he said.
White said handlers and flankers try to make the searches seem like a game for the dogs to keep them interested, and reward the dogs to keep them on task and engaged.
Red Mountain Search Dog Association has not yet had to put their training to use in a real-life scenario as they just recently certified their first dog as “mission ready” and will be certifying additional dogs soon. However, in the event a real-life mission comes up, they plan to be prepared and on call, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in all conditions.
“Our main focus is to provide an extra resource to law enforcement,” White said about the group’s certified trainers. “Part of our policy is we have to be called out. We don’t just show up and we are not self-deployed.”
White said Red Mountain Search Dog Association is proud to serve central Alabama and welcomes visitors during training as they always need new volunteers to “find” during their practices.
To contact Red Mountain Search Dog Association, call 205-541-4051.