Specially-Trained Dogs Help Search for Missing People
Thousands of people go missing in the United States each year and sometimes it takes a special rescuer to find those missing people. In 2018, more than 600,000 people were reported missing.
The volunteers are trained in search tactics such as lost person behavior, scent theory and navigation. They use graphs to create a grid of their search area and sometimes deploy a drone to get an aerial view. The dogs, however, are their most prominent resource.
It takes about two years for the dogs to be fully trained and operational. The canines and volunteers train every weekend and many weekdays as well, an estimated 40 hours of training per week. Before being operational, the dogs also pass a certification test through the Pennsylvania Search and Rescue Council or the International Police Work Dog Association.
The rescue dogs are trained in three disciplines: trailing, air scent and cadaver. Trailing is where the dog can follow a specific scent, usually from a person's clothing, and follow the path that person walked. Air scent is more broad and the dog searches a wide area for any human scent nearby. Lastly, cadaver is the most intensive training and dogs are able to locate human remains on both land and water.
The Northwest Pennsylvania K-9 Search and Rescue team gets between 20 and 30 calls each year and many of the missing people are dementia patients. According to the Alzheimer's association, 6 in 10 people with dementia wander off at some point.
While the team is on call 24/7, they can only be called to assist in a missing person search by emergency crews. There is never a charge for their help, though, because the organization runs completely on donations and fundraising. Their biggest fundraiser of the year is their Get Lost 5K, which is on June 9th this year. Registration details can be found here.