K-9 program specializes in tracking missing autistic children

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TRAVELERS REST, SC (WSPA) – Children with autism are four times more likely to wander off, but a new canine search and rescue initiative in the Upstate could help law enforcement officers find missing autistic children faster. 

Springbrook Autism Behavioral Health Partners in Travelers Rest teamed up with the South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association (SCSARDA) to host K-9 training for children with autism. 

For several years, the organizations have held mock searches to give kids a chance to interact with highly trained dogs and the dogs a chance to modify their skills in order to keep the kids calm, just like they would in a real life missing child search. 

Handlers tell 7News the dogs are able to track the kids through their scent. 

“There’s a lot of search strategy involved,” said volunteer handler Sarah Hey. “You don’t just throw a dog out into the field and kind of work them, SCSARDA has three types of dogs. We have on leash trailing dogs, so those dogs will place their nose on the ground and look for the scent for the person that they are searching for and find direction of travel.”

The mock scenarios also provide parents an idea of what they need to do if their child goes missing. 

“As a parent of a child that’s on the spectrum, you worry about a lot of things and to be able to know that there are resources for children that may elope and that the dogs are ready and we can do these types of things, to help bring kids back home again, that’s by far the biggest thing.” CEO Springbrook Autism Behavioral Health Mike Rowley said. “The relief that it can give parents knowing that there’s resources if they can’t find the child.” 

There’s also a new program called Smart911. Parents can add their children’s information to a database, so in the event a child does go missing law enforcement can use that information in their search. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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