April 05, 2016 - 9:00 PM
KAMLOOPS - Local volunteers have a new search and rescue member to add to their roster but this one has four legs, a really strong sense of smell and pointy ears.
Gertie the German shepherd was recently validated as a search and rescue dog after a two-year training period with owner and Kamloops Search and Rescue volunteer Michelle Liebe-Hofstee.
Search Manager Alan Hobler says Gertie is now one of two dogs currently working with the team. Her skills will help cover more ground in searches where time is precious.
"Having SAR dogs on the team are a huge help. They can find things that regular searchers can’t and can search larger areas to pick up scents,” Hobler says.
Search dog roles are different than what appear on TV, Hobler says. Rather than sniffing a personal item and trying to track the person, he says dogs like Gertie will run through an area to try and find clues which could lead the team to the missing individual.
He notes Gertie’s journey has been a long one with her owner.
"Most dogs that start to process never actually reach validation,” he says.
Liebe-Hofstee echoes Hobler.
"It's only one in four dogs that go through the process," she says. "So many things can go wrong."
The right traits, breed type and behaviour all come into play on the dog’s job prospects. If the dog is too aggressive or hyperactive, validation is unlikely.
Liebe-Hofstee says the training for Gertie focused on imprinting the dog by making each trial search a game for Gertie, who was rewarded for good behaviours with treats and playtime. She's thankful for fellow search and rescue dog handler Mike Ritcey and RCMP dog training units for helping her and Gertie train with some intense scenarios.
"We got her used to the helicopter," she says. "There are quite a few things your dog needs to not be afraid of."
Liebe-Hofstee already demonstrated her commitment to the search and rescue team throughout the training process. Hobler notes funding and training is only available for dogs which have already received their validation.
“It’s really amazing. It’s a huge commitment. I feel fortunate to live in a community where we have people like that,” he says.
Another Kamloops dog is still in training and has a while to go before she can test for validation. Ruby, a young yellow lab, will join Ritcey and Juno, the other certified dog with Kamloops Search and Rescue, if validated at the end of her training.
Liebe-Hofstee and Gertie the SAR dog getting used to working near helicopters
Image Credit: contributed
—This story was edited at 12:38 p.m., April 6, 2016, to include information obtained from an interview with Liebe-Hofstee.
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