Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Why do you do SAR?

This is meant to be an interactive, get to know you kinda blog.

It's kinda funny, the idea sprang from someone's misconception on my motives behind SAR, but then I posted a short statement on Facebook and got some interesting replies. So interesting that I thought it deserved more attention. So many of my friends, even if they are only FB friends do this endeavor we call SAR. I think it is a good thing to reminds me of the human element of this, our inner feelings, motivations, and the overall ability of mankind to be good, honorable, kind, a time when the world seems to be much less kind than it was when I was growing up as a kid.

So I wrote a very very short version on FB. Here is an extended version and some additional experiences. I encourage you to write yours below in the comments or even better on FB if you have not already. It is a chance for all of us to get to know each other better and understand that very human side of each of us that is good and kind.

In 1998 I was living in Dallas with my ex-wife. One night we were watching the 10pm news. The news cut to a segment about a little girl who was missing. In the clip they showed search dogs (german shepherds) searching for her. She and her little brother had been abducted by their mother's live-in boyfriend. He had stripped her little brother naked and left him to die in a cemetery. Authorities found him alive but hypothermic. The little girl however, was found the next day murdered, having been raped and dumped in the river. It was tragic, .......made me sick to my stomach..........I still cannot understand why or how someone can do that to a child..........

My ex began telling me I could do this. I could train dogs for this. After all, I had been training dogs since I was 8 years old when I trained my first obedience dog. I taught obedience classes for my vet and Petco. I had done the majority of the work for my parents kennel as neither of them had any patience at all and as I grew up with the dogs as my playmates and siblings, I learned not only from experts in obedience, schutzhund, confirmation, etc. I also learned from interacting and watching the dogs. My breed of choice was of course then GSD's and after I had graduated from college and settled into adult life, I went in search of a good GSD to start my own kennel with the thoughts of obedience and agility competitions. Instead, I got into therapy dogs......but again, that is another blog.

I then owned a very nice young male who was out of good bloodlines and was one of the best males I had ever had. He was sound, had great nerve strength, was benevolent, and loved to play fetch. For our wedding gift my mom had given me a bitch from a nice kennel in TN and I planned to raise pups out of them eventually for competition.

I was in the process of getting ready to move to College Station so my ex could go to college for meteorology and so, while it remained in the back of my mind, I did not pursue SAR in Dallas. I also decided after doing a little bit of reading, at 4 years old, my boy was too old to start, so I would have to wait for a puppy. I decided I would look into it after we moved which we did in the fall of 99.

In the spring of 2000, we had our litter of pups. I picked out a couple I liked and we planned to start with a local team we had met at the annual Texas A&M Vet School Open House. They recommended we start the pups around 12 wks, so that was our plan.

As it happened it was just me. We separated and divorced that year after she ran off with the fed ex man. (not another blog. LOL). So, I began training my Allie pup in the fall of 2000 and the rest as they say is history.

About 5 years into SAR, I worked an hr search for a missing young lady. The family was on scene and were not secured from the searchers. At the end of the day, as we prepared to go home, the mother of the missing girl came up and asked to pet the dogs. We of course obliged. This was the first time we had come face to face with the family. We all felt a little awkward. Then the mom started hugging each of us. Through tears she said, "Thank you for coming and looking for my daughter, it made me know that she still matters". We all choked back the tears ourselves, but the reality of what we did had truly slapped us all in the face. Before then it was training aids and it was a real human being.......someone's family,

Through the years, there have been moments that I considered quiting due to all the politics that go on in the SAR world......but then there were moments like above which reminded me why I chose to continue. It made the work meaningful to me. In the beginning I did it because I was motivated from an indecent I had seen on TV. I continued because the glaring truth of the pain the families with missing loved ones go through slaps you in the face and you realize that through our efforts, even if we find nothing, sometimes our presence alone can numb some of that pain and offer comfort that someone is trying to find their loved ones. The few times you can give closure to a family, you feel your humanity the deepest and it is profound, painful yet comforting know what you did made a difference for someone. That you brought them home to their family.

I always say that the live find dogs get all the glory and rightfully so. They saved someone's life and it is an awesome thing. They are hero's as are their handlers, but never underestimate the gift given by a cadaver dog to a grieving family. It allows them closure so they can go on with their lives and in doing so may actually save their lives as well. Grief can be a heavy burden to carry..........

And so you begin your journey for one reason or another....and you continue it year after year, through heat and cold, good times and bad, politics and irritation for reasons that become even more meaningful with time to the soul......

I once heard at a NASAR conference that the average lifespan of a K9 SAR Handler is 3 years.................really? 3 years? Thats all? That is not even long enough to get your feet wet. I wonder why those people quit. Was it not what they expected? too hard? cost too much? too much work? not the glory they were thinking?.........What do you think?

I am now at 11 years and while I know more than some, I know less than others. I have been ever so lucky in my short career thus far to have had some awesome mentors who I have the utmost respect for. SAR is a continuum, a dynamic process of learning that never ends............and those moments when the politics get too much, I remind myself of the moments like the one above and WHY I do this comes flooding back and wipes away all the anger and frustration from the part that means so little (politics).

It is not for fame. It is not for glory. It is because it is my way of giving back, helping someone in need, giving a family closure..........and that is why I do this.

How bout you?


  1. There is allot to be said for "why" we do this.. For me it seemed like a natural match as I was a member of Civil Air Patrol for a long time in the early 80s.

    I was involved in a Search many years back for a family that went missing in the Collin County/Denton County area, of course back then ICS was a catch phrase and there was very little of it being applied so needless to say the Search was a huge mess.

    I formed a SAR Team (Lone Star Emergency SAR) in Glen Rose Texas in 1991 and trained my very first SAR dog (Resq) with the help of some folks from another team (C.E.S.A.R.) Children Education Search and Rescue out of the DFW Metroplex, our teams worked well together and in 1995 LSESAR combined with C.E.S.A.R.

    It was around this time that the first Texas SAR Association (TEXSAR) was formed but due to politics and fighting among members it died a horrific death.

    In 1996 I moved to East Texas and found out real quick that there was no organized SAR teams in the region, my first clue was a drowning that occurred a few miles from my home, I contacted the local Sheriff and offered my assistance, I was quickly turned down and advised his Dope dogs were capable of finding this subject, I politely inquired about the level of HRD training his dogs had and was told to mind my own business. After another such incident where a subject was located by family member two weeks after a "search" just a few hundred yards from the place his vehicle was found I decided to form another SAR Team, East Texas K-9 Search and Rescue.

    In 2005 ETK9SAR was absorbed into the City of Hudson Fire Department and now operates as the Hudson Fire Department K-9 Search and Rescue Team.

    It seems to me that Texas is behind the curve as far as SAR goes, politics and turf wars continue to limit our ability as a whole to work together for the benefit of everyone.

    I have met allot of fine folks through out the years and seen allot of changes in the Texas SAR community... I just hope I can see the day we ALL work as one voice to get the support we deserve and can work together on a routine basis as many of the Teams in surrounding states do.

  2. Hey, SARSpecialist, whereabouts were you in CAP?

    I was a cadet in a squadron near Houston (Ellington Composite) back in the late '90s. Great organization, and I still have the friends I made there. That was a lot of my reason for getting involved in SAR later in life, too; we were trained for SAR work in CAP, but except for a couple of malfunctioning Emergency Location Transmitters that needed to be found and shut off, we never got to do much- but I always wanted to. I wanted to help, to matter, to do something that made a direct, tangible difference in someone's life.

    After CAP, I tried other forms of volunteering- charitable fundraising for various causes, mostly- which never had the visible, direct, personal impact I wanted to make. When I saw Cen-Tex SAR's training listed on the schedule board at Gander Mountain about three years ago (Hey, Ben, what's the average lifespan for a flanker?), I immediately remembered CAP, my training there and how we all hoped and wished for a REAL mission back

    The rest is history. I found the direct contribution I had so longed to make, and I can't imagine not having that sense of purpose. At the end of the day, knowing that we've given a family just some little piece of the closure they need- and having learned firsthand what closure means in the grief process- the sense of fulfillment is incredible.