Sniffing for the Missing: the Dogs of Search and Rescue 

Sit. Stay. Search.

Page 5 of 5

The Team

The reward for finding anyone—alive or not—is huge. For families of lost loved ones, it's closure. For searchers, it's purpose and fulfillment. For the dogs, it's as simple as a getting a much-wanted chew toy.

But Stehling said Riffle has to be careful. While it's easy to laugh and have fun during trainings, missions become more stressful.

  • Jessica Murri

"They pick up on the handlers' emotions," Stehling said. "In fact, I'm switching a lot of my training now towards myself. To be able to keep my senses, make sure that I'm not missing anything. A lot of times, you'll rush off and you forgot to pack enough water, or you haven't checked your radio batteries because you're just so hyped to go into it. If you're that way, your dog will be confused, too, because they're so tied to you. You really are a team."

IMSARU's trainers work hard to stay sharp, conducting mock missions a few times a year that include setting up a complete base camp and searching hundreds of acres. They travel to trainings in Nevada and go through recertification every two years, usually in Montana.

A few weeks ago, Kearney spent four days in California training with the Border Patrol. The trip cost $7,200 out of pocket, but she said it's training she could never get up here. Stehling said everyone wants to be the one to find the missing person but that can't be the reason for doing what they do.

"In the grand scheme of things, yeah, everyone dreams that, oh, you're going to be the one with your dog to find a lost child that's been out there for two days and that would be so neat to do that," Stehling said. "But in the back of your mind, that has to be kind of far down the list—that you're actually going to find someone and get that monster reward. Your reward needs to come from preparing for that."

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