Light Brush Test

Test Three out of Six: The long walk around.

Now that I got my trail test finished, it is time to start working area searches.  This is where my mad getting lost skills can really get me in trouble.  Everything started out well,  my water bladder completely leaked over all of my pack contents.  No big problem, this shouldn’t take too long.

Here is the scoop on my subject. Paul was lost in the woods.  His family was worried because he got some bad news recently and park rangers found his car in the parking lot after hours. Looks like Grom and I are out to find him.

Here is my search area.

The very first thing I did was take notes all about my map.  I drew my own copy of the search area on a packing label and stuck it to my pack.  Here is what it would look like overlaid on the actual map.

Do your undefined first.

My plan of action was to walk up the road and flag my undefined boundary to the north.  So, up we walked the road with Grom on the leash. Nearly to the start of my task, I remember to do a radio check.  My evaluator Jack told me he nearly made me walk all the way back to base, pretending I had a broken radio!   With that simple threat, I would not do that again.

At the edge of the road I sent Grom off with his search word.  He dashed into the woods full of bounding joy and energy.  It was a gorgeous day, in the 60’s and overcast.  It even looked like it was going to rain.  Grom was elated to be free and immediately began grabbing sticks and peeing on everything he saw.  I called in to base to begin my task and set off after the wild pup.  This first leg was an easy walk downhill to a stream.  I would pause only a few seconds here and there to hang flagging tape, marking my northern boundary, and to test the wind.

About that wind

The wind decided everything. With an overcast day and temperatures not much different from the night before, I knew the scent would be collecting in drainages and running down hill.  I would need to get my dog downwind of the sector and into the drainages.  The problem?  The wind was blowing from the north and going down to the south.  The only thing Grom would be smelling at this point was everything North of our sector.  I had to get us south.

That means a long walk all the way down to the southern part of our sector.  So, down along the stream we trekked. Grom was completely full of himself racing from the stream to the woods on our left and back again.  “At least I will have a tired dog at the end of this,” I thought. The stream lazily flowed through a long lovely meadow with large patches of golden yellow grass and the feathery fronds of ferns.  It was slippery going, and I stumbled several times. I was making my way over a particularly messy spot, a soaked rotten log covered in moss when a shadowy blur streaked past the corner of my left eye.  Before my brain could make sense of what I was seeing, the blur collided into my left leg.  The blur, wearing an orange vest, and I went down in the wet moss. Unfazed by his tackle, Grom stood back up and went back to his dare devil galloping.  I thought I was the blond one here!

The stream became wider and deeper as I neared the trail marking my southern boundary. I began to worry at the clock, walking around my entire sector was taking up far too much time. Grom was having a blast leaping in and out of the water, biting at its surface, and digging interesting things out of the bottom.  He even took a few moments to blow bubbles here and there. We were racing against the clock.  Grom could care less.

I was getting nervous.  I hadn’t even started searching the interior of my sector yet.  I needed to work the dog across the wind.  So, on the trail I went, back to the road for my first pass.   I didn’t want Grom to be walking back along the busy park road, I wanted him in my sector.  So, I figured I could walk in the woods next to the road and he would stay in the woods with me.  This end of the woods was littered with fallen trees to which we expertly fell over and crawled under..  Our going was arduously slow. Not only was the stuff difficult to walk through, but I could not see far enough to get a proper bearing.  I was navigating around one particularly nasty tangled pine when, I looked up to notice Grom trotting happily to my right unimpeded by webs of sharp branches.  With a grin on his face, Grom was walking down the road.

This dog is smarter than his handler

On my second leg back to the stream I cussed under my breath trying to navigate around fallen trees I could not see past.  Halfway through I ran right back into the trail I had previously walked.  Oops!  Looks like I made a navigation mistake and drifted a bit off my line. Ok, I drifted a lot. Noting how the hiking trail took a huge cut to the south, I shrugged it off and kept on walking.  This way at least I would be covering the area well. Grom was still having fun by trotting across fallen logs and diving into mud puddles, probably laughing at me by now.

Back and forth we went across the meadow and into the woods and through the dense brush bordering the road.  Then, it started to rain.  Grom danced in delight, while I quickly threw my cell phone into my pack and covered it with the rain shield.  No point in putting my rain jacket on now, it was wet anyway.   The shipping label on my map case began to melt in the rain.  All of my notes and map drawing began to dissolve into oblivion.  We better find this guy fast I thought.  As I was muttering over the loss of my nice drawing, Grom took off.  He came back several minutes later acting like nothing had happened.

Oh great, I thought.  He found the person and decided not to tell me.

Reminder, If you think your dog decided not to indicate, don’t tell your evaluator.  I thought about how Grom was acting and concluded he had likely chased down a deer.   I did not see him perform his tell tale sign he was in scent by sticking his nose in the air with his nose and tail following its lead, he just dashed away. Boy, I sure hope I was right.

This is exactly why we have so many tests.  A dog handler needs to be put in a stressful life-like search situation so mistakes can be made and remedied with the help of an evaluator long before she is ready to become operational.  It is a one on one lesson with an expert.  This test is going to provide lots of material for MY evaluator today.

Once back to the road, I needed a break.  I was running out of time and my bladder began to really complain.  I left Grom in a down stay with my evaluator while I went off into the woods to think.  I cannot grid this whole thing and finish on time. I need to rethink my search strategy here.  I wandered back to my dog and evaluator and began to study my map.  After a minute or so passed, my evaluator Jack calmly observed,

Your dog just went into the culvert.

He went in the What!?

Jack gestured to the dark tunnel plunging into the ground under the road.  The tube was barely big enough for Grom to fit in.

You have GOT to be kidding me!

I called Grom’s name.  The culvert was not big enough to turn around in and came out the other side of the road to quite a drop into a deep drainage.  My heart fluttered, then dropped directly into my stomach with a sickening thud. Long seconds went by before a black feathered tail and a wiggling Belgian butt appeared at the entrance. Grom clumbsily extracted himself from his little spelunking adventure with a great big grin and a satisfied shake of his body.  I laughed out loud.

With new confidence, I headed back into the woods with my clown of a dog.  Minutes later, Grom takes off again.  This time, I was going to follow him.  I noted a mylar balloon on the ground to my left and pointed my compass directly at my dog’s butt and dashed after him.  Grom stopped, and put his head down to sniff some leaves, then began lazily wandering around investigating various sticks and plants.  Oh, great.  He wasn’t in scent and the clock was ticking down.  Back I tiredly stumbled to the mylar balloon and continued on my way. Grom staying closer than he had before.

What in the world are you thinking dog?  Did you smell something?  Was it the deer?

I began to fear I somehow walked past the subject or I would simply time out.  My dog probably thinks I am a complete idiot at this point and is staying close by to make sure I don’t do anything else stupid, like get lost.  Nothing to do but keep going and trust the dog.

Grom picks up the pace and begins trotting in wide arcs in front of us.  Could he be in scent? A skidding change in direction confirms my guess.  It is a tell tale sign that Grom reached the edge of the scent cloud.  I look in the direction my pup is headed and see the corner of something blue peeking from around a large tree.  Yes!

Before I am able to get moving, Grom is dashing back to me eyes locked to mine.  He is taking great gulps of air and bounding to a stop to give me an elated bark followed by two out of breath air barks.  I send him off to show me where the person is, tripping through moss and mud to Paul happily leaning against a tree.

I call out Paul’s name.  No response.  I reach to take his vitals when Jack calls out

He is foaming at the mouth and there are no signs of life

I call back if there is a heartbeat or breathing.  Jack responds with a smirk,

There are NO – SIGNS – OF – LIFE !

Oh right, that means he is dead, DUH!  Paul lets a small smile cross his lips, trying not to laugh.  I slowly back away from Paul in the direction I came and begin to describe crime scene preservation procedures to my evaluator.  Nodding, my evaluator gives Paul the blessing to play with my hard working pup.

I sigh a great big sigh of relief while I locate my coordinates and call my find into base.

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