by K.J. Lincoln
Bethel Search and Rescue (BSAR), the local volunteer organization dedicated to helping save lives by searching for missing persons, now has a 4-legged helper – a St. Bernard named D.O.G.
D.O.G. will be 4-years old in August. His trainer/handler/owner is Jim Pete of Bethel, a 20 year veteran of BSAR.
Jim has been on countless search missions that have stretched on and on. In some cases, BSAR had asked for the assistance from other K9s teams which have come to help.
The idea of Bethel having their own search and rescue dog had been growing on his mind for a while.
“I got interested in it long ago,” he said from BSAR Headquarters. “We’ve been on prolonged searches, calling in other K9 teams and thinking how it would shorten up our searches.”
Others thought that it might not work out here, he said. But it is.
The trainers from the MAT-SAR Search & Rescue K9 SAR Team met with Jim and BSAR and extended their welcome for them to join their unit.
“A big thanks goes out to Stacie Burkhardt and the MAT-SAR search team,” said Pete.
D.O.G. has been in training since July of last year. Together with Jim, he’s been to several sessions covering avalanche training, trailing, and airscenting. Their next one will be on water searches.
Even we don’t have avalanches here, but he can help find someone if they’re under the snow, Jim said.
D.O.G. has a very calm temperament. He’s friendly and is good with children. Jim and his family have had him since he was born. They also own D.O.G.’s mom, Annabelle.
So far BSAR has sponsored D.O.G.’s training expenses. They travel to the Anchorage area for each session. BSAR is hoping to start a fund for him to help support his continued instruction.
As a SAR dog, D.O.G. flies in the cabin with the other passengers. TSA knows who he is and a pilot on one of their flights came out to meet him in person and to present him with his very own wings. Folks love to pet him and he likes the attention.
The training has been great, said Jim. They are learning together. Jim has learned to read his partner’s body language, his alerts, and to trust him.
It takes 18 months for a search and rescue dog to be certified.
“He may be ready for certification by this fall,” said Jim. “I’m surprised that we’re doing so well. He aces the testing.”
The two take Wednesdays and Saturdays to do training runs. They will go out by boat and someone will hide in the woods and D.O.G. will go and find them using a scent article such as a hat or a shoe. The training searches have been getting longer and longer.
For certification, a search has to be successful on a scent that is 4-6 hours old and up to 2 miles out.
“He loves his job, he gets excited. He also loves coming to search and rescue meetings,” Jim said. “It’s in his genes to know what to do.”
If someone is missing and help is needed, the sooner the better to call them, said Jim. The longer it is, the harder it is to find the scent.
BSAR provides assistance when requested by the Alaska State Troopers, Civil Air Patrol, City of Bethel Police, Village Police Safety Officers, and other SAR teams in villages surrounding Bethel. If you would like to make a donation to help support Bethel’s first K9 SAR dog, visit their website at http://kusko.net/bsar/about-bsar/.
“I’ve waiting 20 years for this,” said Jim. “Finally MAT-SAR took us in. Thank you.”