Training to track: King County Search & Rescue K9 Unit

KING COUNTY -- “Any place where we can find a last known point, that’s when a trailing dog really comes in handy,” explains Heather Cutting, operations leader for the King County Search and Rescue k-9 Unit. And for two year old Jack, trailing is his specialty. “What he is trained to do is to take an article or a piece of clothing from a certain individual, smell it, and then follow that ground -scent back to where the person is located,” Cutting added. And when his job is done, he gets to relax. Cutting points out that, “Playing with the toy at the end is the reward.” But trailing is just one of many techniques used by the members of the KCSAR k-9 Unit. Cutting explains, “We only will utilize two or three trailing dogs on any given mission, but we’ll utilize five, six, seven, eight air scent dogs on a mission.” It turns out that air scent dogs were the original rescue team.

“Air scent in general actually started in Washington, in Pierce County with German shepherd search dogs was the first search group in the country,” cutting remarked. They work off leash and are trained to find any person. “What happens is as a human is sitting there, it’s very similar to what they do with trailing, is you have skin rafts that come off your body on a continual basis, and the theory is that the bacteria on those skin rafts is what the dogs are smelling,” Cutting said. And as part of her training to get certified, two-year-old Baily found this man by following his scent through the woods. Robby Martin is Baileys handler and says, “We train, it could be every week and there’s still new scenarios to train.” Scenarios that could also involve searching for dead bodies. That’s one of 9-year-old Tryon’s specialties. “We teach a passive trained indication so that they’re not actually disturbing the scene. Whether it’s a laying down or a sit or a bark-something that hopefully doesn’t disturb the scene,” explains Cutting. A similar technique is used when looking for someone who may be under water or even snow. Cutting continues, “We’ve got snow training coming up, so we’ll be doing more work in the snow ‘cause it’s starting to snow, so getting ready to do some avalanche work.” All of the volunteers use their own money to fund things like taking care of the animals, special clothing, training, and even gas. You can donate to King County's Search and Rescue K9 Unit at KCSEARCHDOGS.ORG.