My First Search!
It started with a marathon day at work. I was out of the house early in the morning and had four shows ahead of me, all in different locations. This was no desk job, I had heavy animals to load and unload 10 times that day, nearly 100 miles to drive in some of the worst traffic in the country, and four energy filled performances in front of potentially rowdy adults and children. My job is awesome, I get home happy and tired.
I wasn’t going home. After work, I headed off to a party . When I got home, Grom must have thought I had been eaten by a giant purple people eater. He nearly flattened me in his exuberant greeting! As I was attempting to ward off slobber, paws, and a giant dog tongue when my phone rang.
It was the dispatcher for the SAR group. I attempted to answer through paws-in-the face and doggie head-butts. I hit the answer button several times and the darned phone would not respond.
“Come on, stupid phone this could be important!” I grumbled.
Finally the phone connected, but the dispatcher had already hung up. ARRRGH! (Of course Grom was sitting pretty like he hadn’t tried to maul me 10 seconds ago.)
I redialed and connected…. with voice mail. DOH!
Redialed again and left a message with left voice mail. Then waited. I missed the first two searches I was called for, I am not going to miss this call.
She called me back, there was a search and I would be going in the morning.
I was finally called out on my very first official search! Someone was lost for true and needed real help.
I quickly had everything packed and ready to go in my car with the help of my awesome husband. I hit the sack for four hours of sleep and rose before dawn. While I was pulling my warm under-shirt on over my head, I realized I was not overly excited or nervous. Although, I did get a bit cranky when I misplaced my freshly filled coffee cup, twice. Maybe I was a bit nervous.
With a gorgeous pink sunrise at our backs, I rode in the passenger seat of my teammate’s truck on the way to the mountain. It was a beautiful ride with all of the leaves shimmering red, gold, and orange in the breeze along each side of the road. The bright sun and clear sky promised a nice day to be walking in the mountains.
We arrived at a very busy Search Base a short hour later. The area was filled with law enforcement, fire fighters, ground search teams, horse mounted teams, and dog teams all returning from their first task and waiting for their next. Huge antennas bristled up out of the communications trailer where radios are handed out and the airwaves, the arteries for a search, are maintained. Lines of people flowed in and out of the Command Center, the brains and backbone of the whole operation. My empty stomach was attempting to grab my attention with several groans and gurgles when I noticed several police officers with hot food in their hands.
My thoughts were interrupted when a tall man walked out of the trailer and greeted us with a question of who was the most experienced dog person. I pointed to my team mate and watched as she was whisked away into the Command Trailer.
My stomach talked to my brain which got my hand moving towards two large fabric coolers filled with hot biscuits and sausage sandwiches. Familiar faces from SAREX and SAR training school began appearing in the crowd. Then, some members of my very own SAR group arrived. We grouped together when my team-mate emerged from the trailer with our task in hand. We were each handed a picture of the lost person with the details of his situation, instructions, and maps. Using a police ATV as a table, we poured over the information and laid out a plan of attack. Then, piled into our truck and drove down the road to a point closer to our task area.
We found the perfect place to park the truck no more than 200 meters from our task start point. Wait, this doesn’t exactly look right. One of our more experienced team members noticed we could not be where we thought we were. The GPS indicated we were not where we thought we should be either. Perhaps the road is a big loop and it meets up with the main road further south. So, we all piled back into the car and drove down the road, way down the road. That was the only road it could have been. What is the deal here?
I came to find out that the maps I printed from home were not as accurate as I had hoped. Sure, the contour lines and other features were spot on, but the overlay of the newer roads and trails were off, way off. Good to know! Boy, did I feel like a dummy.
We found a perfect place to park on an adjacent road and started out. A car drove in behind us and expelled a lady and two charging dogs. One dog pit bull mix started straight for our search dog! Our dog handler quickly took her dog around to the other side of the truck and had her lay down out of sight. What a good dog! We were able to intercept the two charging pooches so the woman could get them back in her car. That got my heart started! All was fine; time to start searching.
All five of us navigated in a line like a ground search team with a young german shepherd bounding and zooming around in front of us with her nose in the air. Some one out there had her toys, and she was going to go find them! We made our way up through the woods bordered by two drainages back to the truck. Visibility was fairly good, and the area was narrow enough for us to be spaced a nice distance apart for visual coverage in case we found any clues. We found nothing.
So, we went back to the truck for the start of our second portion of the task. Our leader decided to walk up the road bordering our area and work down hill from there. The sun was heating the ground and causing scent and airflow to move uphill. If there was a person down hill from us, the dog would have a better chance of catching his scent.
It sounded a great plan. Walking uphill in the beginning is much better than at the end. Boy, was it a steep climb! After resting a few times, someone mentioned how it would have been a good idea to take two cars so we could have driven to the top. Good idea; too bad we were more than half way there. Good thing I would very much like the size of my heiney to reduce in size, exercise was very much welcome.
Then, a large black labrador came trotting down the road towards us from behind a large truck parked on the side of the road. I was beginning to wonder if there were loose dogs everywhere on this mountain. The owner was talking to a search volunteer and quickly asked his dog to get back in his yard when he found out we had a dog too. We safely passed by, eyeing the very interested big dog as we did. The big retriever decided to trot on after us until one of us waved him back. I turned around and noticed he began following us again! Where was that nice owner of his? I stopped, put my hands on my hips and leaned in towards the big dog. I stayed in that position until he slowly turned around and walked back to his own driveway. There would be no rumble in the jungle today.
At the top of the hill, our group turned 90 degrees and began walking in between our sector boundaries. Half way across, another big dog comes bouncing towards us from the opposite direction. Dogs! There are dogs everywhere! This one had a nice orange vest on. It was another search dog! Both dogs were called back to their handlers and leashed up while the teams met. I took the minutes to pinpoint exactly where I was on the map. I do not have the knack of instantly knowing my exact location at all times, it still takes me a bit of looking around and figuring from my pace count to be sure. “Practice,” I remind myself.
The other K9 search team moves along towards their search area, and we continue on. We stumble, slide, hop, trudge, and trip across leaf covered rocks and boulders. Back and forth, back and forth. The search dog moves into four-paw-drive and blazes past us without concern. The horrible terrain does not phase this pup! While the dog is working hard, we surprise a man in his own backyard. He must have been confused why two backpack toting women in official looking jackets were doing stumbling around the boulders behind his house. He was quickly interviewed and we continued on.
Near the end of our task, we encountered a house with very large barbed wire topped fenced off yard. The search dog showed no interest, so we made our way around it. I picked my way into denser vegetation. Much of it was very prickly. One thorn covered vine caught in my pony tail. I lowered myself to dislodge it when another entangles around the top of my pack. While I slowly move to pull the pesky plants off, several more thorns began biting into my arms and legs from three directions. It must have taken me a full two minutes to free myself from the mess. “Stupid invasive roses,” I muttered I like roses as much as the next gal, but these stupid plants bear no flowers, only horrible green masses of entangled vines bristling with sharp hooked thorns.
Once freed, I found a wooden camo deer hunting shed up against the fence. I knocked on the door and pushed inside. It would be a good place to hide for the night if it were cold and you were lost. It was only filled with bags of concrete and building materials, no lost person here.
Thirty-seconds later I was back on the road and near our truck. My first search was over.
Back at base I found some hot chicken nuggets and an apple to munch on. This search was well-organized! Our leader debriefed inside the trailer and our team split up talking to other search teams waiting for their next search task. We covered a lot of area in six hours, but the missing person was still missing.
Fresh teams were still arriving as we left that afternoon, base was still swarming with people, and the mountain was being searched.
I wondered where the man was as I made my way home. I hoped he was ok. I dreaded he was in our search area and we somehow missed him. I would go back out in the middle of the night with another team if asked. I left my gear in the car, ate a snack, and took a bath.
Just before dinner I was notified they found the man that evening three miles from our search area. He was ok.
That’s all that matters.