SPARTANBURG COUNTY, S.C. (WSPA) – South Carolina Search and Rescue Dog Association helps assist in trying to find missing persons. 7NEWS went behind the scenes on how they train their dogs.
The training was held at the Pacolet River Heritage Preserve. The non-profit was started in 2002. All the trainers are volunteers and they provide their services for free. Each dog has a special type of training that helps in missing persons cases.
“The way Penny works is working with odor, the odors from our body from decomposition. She smells the oil and different parts of the body has the different smells,” said Mitch Henderson.
Penny and her handler, Mitch Henderson, search for human remains. One sniff and she’s off, with Henderson trailing behind.
“We may go to North Carolina, we may stay here in Spartanburg, or maybe go to Greenville,” said Henderson. “Just wherever we’re needed.”
During training, Penny smells the ground, searching for human body odor and sits to signal she finds what they’re looking for.
Henderson said the summer months are the peak time they’re called for assistance, because of missing hikers.
“We have to have law enforcement or emergency management to call us out,” he said.
Penny can search for bones, blood, tissue or even a tooth.
“It can take anywhere from 15-20 minutes to a couple hours,” said Henderson.
While some of the South Carolina Search and Rescue dogs are trained on finding the deceased, others are trained to search for the living.
SCSARDA is out in multiple environments, training their dogs multiple times a month. They have 3 types of search and rescue dogs: human remains detection, trailing, and area searching. Iris, a German Shepherd, is one of their trailing dogs. This means she keeps her nose down to the ground trying to find a scent of a missing persons.
“There will be a flag, there will be a scent article left there. First, she gets her SAR harness, I hook her on to her long leash, and then she has a check command,” said Morgan Reid.
From there, Reid, Iris’s handler, said she follows that trail.
“Once she’s on a trail, depending on how old the trail is, she will either be directly nose down or hover about 6 inches from the ground,” said Reid.
Sniffing until she can find the missing person.
K9 handler, Sarah Hey, has a dog in area searching.
“They will surf the air for a scent cone from a missing person. So, they’re not necessarily following the trail, they’re following the scent cone,” said Hey.
Faramir, Hey said, is starting out in trailing and then will go on to area search.
“Our common subjects are older people who might have a cognitive, Alzheimer’s or form of Dementia, or children,” she said.
The team acts as a tool for law enforcement.
“We’re like special teams coming in on a football team, we’re just tasked for a few areas,” said Hey. “If we are in area where the subject is, typically our dogs will find them.”
All five trainers, and their dogs, are ready at any time to help find those who are lost.
“We’re there at a very intense time for a family,” said Hey.
“You never know when it’s going to happen,” said Reid.
“That’s why we’re here, to help and to give back,” said Henderson.
What type of dog used is based off law enforcement’s needs.
If someone is interested in helping the team, they can donate their land to be used for training, volunteer as a subject, donate, or become a team member.