SPARTANBURG COUNTY, SC (WSPA) — The South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association is helping to locate missing persons. 7NEWS went behind the scenes on how they train their dogs.
The training took place at the Pacolet River Heritage Preserve. The non-profit organization was founded in 2002. All trainers work on a voluntary basis and offer their services free of charge. Each dog has a specific type of training that helps with missing person cases.
“The way Penny works is with smells, the smells of our bodies through decomposition. She smells the oil, and different parts of her body have different smells,” said Mitch Henderson.
Penny and her handler, Mitch Henderson, search for human remains. One sniff and she’s gone, Henderson following her.
“We can go to North Carolina, we can stay here in Spartanburg, or maybe go to Greenville,” Henderson said. “Just where we are needed.”
While training, Penny smells the ground, looks for human body odor, and sits down to signal that she finds what they are looking for.
Henderson said the summer months are the prime time they get calls for help about missing hikers.
“We need to have law enforcement or emergency management to call us,” he said.
Penny can search for bone, blood, tissue, or even a tooth.
“It can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes to a couple of hours,” Henderson said.
While some of South Carolina’s search and rescue dogs are trained to find the deceased, others are trained to search for the living.
SCSARDA travels to different environments and trains their dogs several times a month. You have 3 types of search and rescue dogs: human remains detection, tracking and area search. Iris, a German shepherd, is one of her trail dogs. That means she keeps her nose to the ground and tries to find a missing persons scent.
“There will be a flag, there will be a fragrance article. First she gets her SAR harness, I attach her to her long leash and then she has a control command,” said Morgan Reid.
From there, Reid, Iris’ handler, said she follows this trail.
“Once she’s on a track, depending on how old the track is, she’ll either be right nose down or hover about 6 inches off the ground,” Reid said.
Sniffing until she can find the missing person.
K9 handler Sarah Hey has a dog scouring the area.
“They will search the air for a missing person scent cone. So they’re not necessarily following the trail, they’re following the scent cone,” Hey said.
Faramir, said Hey, will begin tracking and then proceed with area search.
“Our joint subjects are older people who may have cognitive disorders, Alzheimer’s disease or some form of dementia, or children,” she said.
The team acts as a tool for law enforcement.
“We’re like special teams that come on a football team, we only have responsibilities for a couple of areas,” Hey said. “If we’re in an area where the object is, our dogs will usually find them.”
All five trainers and their dogs are always ready to help search for missing persons.
“We are there at a very intense time for a family,” Hey said.
“You never know when it’s going to happen,” Reid said.
“That’s why we’re here, to help and to give back,” Henderson said.
The type of dog used depends on the needs of law enforcement.
If anyone is interested in helping the team, they can donate their land to use for training, volunteer as a test subject, donate, or become a team member.
You can find more information about SCSARDA on Facebook or on the website.