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Discussion Starter #1
So the SAR group I was working with pretty much fell apart and for the last few months I have been trying to connect with local teams. I found a FEMA team about 45 minutes away that I attended a practise with and REALLY like. Great people, awesome dogs. I had emailed another group and asked all my questions as far as handler and dog certification since they seemed to be more of a private group. I dont have the dog for the work yet and will be getting one sometime in the near future :) but wanted to start working with the team first...this is the email I got back from this other group, Im a bit confused on it...can anyone shed some light for me :thinking:

"Our Unit has never had interest in keeping the number count up on our volunteer list....everyone who is a part brings value to the Unit to make it whole or better. We are not "traditional" in many of our efforts but do not fall into the category of most volunteer opportunities.
There are a number of avenues you can take for getting certified, by a number of groups across the nation if not the world........it never ends. Who has the best? Which counts for more? Which costs the most? As long as you are willing to put out the money and effort you will find some place willing to certify you to do something. It never ends. Bottom line here.......are you effective. The word certification concerns me. We are not a club, business, or government entity. We do not compete........we do the best we can, where we are, with what we have.
Stay safe...."



 

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My guess would be they aren't impressed with certificates and titles, they're more interested in end results, the reasons you want to be involved in SAR etc.

Titles & certificates for dogs and owners/trainers are really important to a lot of people these days but honestly, how many people work only long enough to get the title and then move on to something else?

Maybe from your letter they thought you were more interested in the titles or certificates rather than being involved in SAR for the long haul?
 

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Discussion Starter #3
That would make sense I guess..although Im not sure why they would have thought that. It just sort of took me aback when I read it....
 

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It sounds to me like they don't care about being certified but being effective. The also
apparently aren't concerned with having people just to have numbers. They would rather have fewer people who are dedicated then alot of people who are not.
 

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Just a thought here....how many SAR groups that are not certified, which to me means they've passed a test that shows they have reached a certain level of training needed to find a missing person, are called to do the work?

I would be suspicious of a group that responded like that and would certainly look into it further. I would start emailing groups and getting more opinions on what is required to do SAR work.

When there is a disaster, or a missing person, they don't just call in a yahoo with a dog. They call in group/individuals that they know have done the training and that is what the certification proves.
 

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Discussion Starter #7
I agree with what everyone says as far as how the email reads..and I agree that its not the number of team members you have but really how effective you are as a team..but the email honestly is a bit ... I dont know what word to use but maybe harsh? It just kind of put me off to say the least...I was very interested in the program previously but now I am way more interested in the FEMA team because they seemed much more interested in adding new handlers especially one with previous training
 

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It is hard to know without knowing the text of your email to them and how you used the word certification.

My take on certification - they are right - I have seen some nationally certified dogs that make you go "say what?" So I think certs are necessary but only a very small part of the story. For my cadaver dog you betcha - I have certed my current dog with NAPWDA twice and IPWDA basic and advanced once - but cadaver dogs sometimes wind up in court and you want the backing of national police master trainers.

but I do think all things are needed - - certification, training records, and demonstrated proficiency.

I respond to the emails that come into our team and I can say that the overwhelming majority of people are looking for something for their dog to do and are not really interested in SAR and responding is often a big waste of time but I do, and do so politely because you never know.........but it is rare to have a solid email inquiry.

Bottom line - it is often hard to get into a team because there is so much of "oh gee, I didn't know I had to go in the woods for 4 hours but it is hot as **** and there are all these briars and mosquitos"... or "you want me to go out there at night?"....etcetc.

My suggestion to you is....face to face see if you can meet with them .... maybe attend some training as a volunteer victim and get a feeling for the team. You can only go so far with email and there is a lot of reading between the lines on both parties parts without that human body language and vocal intonation to fill in the blanks.
 

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Oh I passed the time for editing
If you lke the FEMA team and it is 45 minutes away - why not?

If it is a newer FEMA associated SUSAR team, figure out the EXPERIENCE they have as there are new teams that have formed and are all about this certification and all about that one but have no real search experience and often speak down about the existing teams that are not as "polished" but that have been finding folks for years.......

You should look at the real life track record of anyone you are interested in

Do they get calls
Who calls them
Do they get called back
Do they find people
 

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Discussion Starter #10
Thanks for all of the information and suggestions Jocoyn. I had emailed the woman back today and clarified why I had been interested in becoming involved. The FEMA team holds a handler course every year but apparently this next year the Fire house (which holds these courses) are thinking about holding off...Im supposed to know in 2 weeks whether or not they are accepting new handlers. I let this other group know that I had already practised and was wanting to get involved with this other group but I appreciated her contacting me back. Fortunetly the woman who "runs" the FEMA group said she would work with me individually if they werent accepting anymore handlers so that in 2012 I could get a head start. I wish it wasn't so hard to get involved in this area :(
 

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I think it is so hard because:

(1) the teams get flooded with dog people wanting something new for their dog to do and are not actually dedicated to the aspect of SAR - every time something about search dogs airs on tv - "watch out"
(2) there really are only so many search callouts in a given area so the need is often met by existing teams
(3) you have to realize with a disaster dog, that dog could live its entire life and never actually be deployed - disaster dog deployment of FEMA dogs is on a rotation basis; a wilderness dog is more likely to get sent out (a lot of FEMA handlers are also on SUSAR teams to be able to do local stuff)
(4) Technology will continue to reduce the need - lost people can often use their cell phones, alarms at nursing homes, GPS wristbands etc.

As long as people drink and drive boats or swim drunk the cadaver dog handlers will have work though. (but sidescan sonar technology is closing the gap there as well....at least for us we have so much stuff like old trees and structures at the bottom of the lakes created by damming rivers that the dogs still are really useful)

I just changed the verbiage on our web page about joining - because right now no more members........
www.scsarda.org
 

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Discussion Starter #12
Yeah the FEMA team is strictly disaster dogs...they dont do any wilderness which I was very bummed about. The reason being like you said above...we may never be called to action. When I sent in my app I explained to the group how I have worked with a SAR group before but that they were really disorganized and that it was going down hill and I was looking for somewhere else to train. I previously taught wilderness first aid and CPR at our local university as well as rock climbing and kayaking. I also am a veterinarian technician so not only can I handle a dog but I feel like a valuable asset as far as helping the teams animals in need...apparently I was wrong on how valuable I would be considered lol :eek:. oh well..Even if the Dog handler course doesn't get offered again until 2012 it will be nice to work with the FEMA team on the side until they can use my help! Im going to have to check out your website, how long have you been involved for?
 

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Discussion Starter #13
I have also considered the work with Cadaver dogs..how do you know if your dog would be better at this than live scent?
 

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I have been involved in SAR since 1999 and on my current team since 2003.

We don't list our K9 certs on the web page but we have a mix of internal testing and national testing. All the cadaver dogs are nationally certified through a police org and we strongly encourage the live disciplines to do the same or other cert but sometimes it is hard to get those external tests so if a dog is proficient and has passed our internal test which is actually harder to test than the external ones (by design) then they becme operational....all levels designed to nest in the NIMS buckets.

I know we won't let a handler do cadaver until they have trained a dog in another discipline ..not sure how other teams handle that.. and air scent is good lead in, because HR is like air scent but with a lot more nuances (scent levels can range from miniscule to huge, now you are dealing with ground water, soil variations, buried, scattered, fresh, aged often for a decade or more, underwater, etc.

There are schools of thought on the kind of dog that makes a good cadaver dog but to me an insanely ball or tug driven dog with no fear and a lot of agility and soundness is what you need. Some people do train with food though and have had succesful dogs so it is a matter of great argument whenever the topic comes up...in any regard you want a dog that is intrigued and not put off by the odor. If they don't like it no point pushing it.
 

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That email response sounds well-intentioned, but is somewhat cryptic. Here is my interpretation of each point.

Our Unit has never had interest in keeping the number count up on our volunteer list....everyone who is a part brings value to the Unit to make it whole or better.
This makes sense to me because there is no way our group could accommodate everybody who is interested in joining. It takes a lot of time by experienced folks to train new dog teams. We have to be selective by choosing people who will most likely bring value to the unit over the long term.

We are not "traditional" in many of our efforts but do not fall into the category of most volunteer opportunities.
Not sure on this one. It sounds like they do things a bit different and you would probably need to inquire further to get an explanation.

There are a number of avenues you can take for getting certified, by a number of groups across the nation if not the world........it never ends. Who has the best? Which counts for more? Which costs the most? As long as you are willing to put out the money and effort you will find some place willing to certify you to do something. It never ends. Bottom line here.......are you effective.
If you asked about what certifications are required for mission ready dog teams in their group, I think this does not directly answer the question. They should be able to point to the testing standards they use, even if they do their own internal evaluations. If they don't do certification tests at all (that would be non-traditional), then my guess is that the experienced members decide when a team in training is ready for missions by watching how they perform at trainings over time. Many groups will also do this, but only after they determine that a team is ready will they allow them to take the certification test to make it official.

Some people are overly concerned about training for a specific test scenario so they can pass a test. In my opinion they should focus instead on training for the wide variety of real world searches they may encounter. When they are effective at searching in realistic scenarios then taking a certification test will be just another checkpoint in their training progression instead of goal in itself.

The word certification concerns me. We are not a club, business, or government entity. We do not compete........we do the best we can, where we are, with what we have.
It sounds like they don't do certiication tests. That is not necessarily bad, they could still be good at what they do. But most mature organizations have some documented standards that they adhere to so the goals of the organization can continue with newer members and not be quite so dependent on the opinions of specific individuals. It also makes it difficult to communicate the training standards to the public (you), and hard to inform the capabilities of the unit to law enforcement agencies that might be interested in their services.
 

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Discussion Starter #16
I know we won't let a handler do cadaver until they have trained a dog in another discipline ..not sure how other teams handle that.. and air scent is good lead in, because HR is like air scent but with a lot more nuances (scent levels can range from miniscule to huge, now you are dealing with ground water, soil variations, buried, scattered, fresh, aged often for a decade or more, underwater, etc.

There are schools of thought on the kind of dog that makes a good cadaver dog but to me an insanely ball or tug driven dog with no fear and a lot of agility and soundness is what you need. Some people do train with food though and have had succesful dogs so it is a matter of great argument whenever the topic comes up...in any regard you want a dog that is intrigued and not put off by the odor. If they don't like it no point pushing it.
I think that makes sense to have them disciplined in other areas first before training for cadaver. It seems like (unfortunetly) in wilderness searching there is a lot more need for cadaver than live scent..would you agree with this? Maybe it depends on the area as well but it seems like they wont call out the teams until all hope is lost....sad really.
 

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That may be true for some areas, but our Sheriff's Office will call us out right away when it makes sense to do so, not as a last resort. On wilderness searches they will sometimes transport us by helicopter so we can get to the scene quickly. Also, our airscent dogs are used for a lot more than just wilderness searches. It is common to be searching in an urban greenbelt or suburban neighborhood in the middle of the night.

Cadaver searches can usually be planned in advance to occur when handlers are available. So for us there is more of a need for airscent dog teams to ensure that some are available to respond any time of the day or night.

It seems like (unfortunetly) in wilderness searching there is a lot more need for cadaver than live scent..would you agree with this? Maybe it depends on the area as well but it seems like they wont call out the teams until all hope is lost....sad really.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
That may be true for some areas, but our Sheriff's Office will call us out right away when it makes sense to do so, not as a last resort. On wilderness searches they will sometimes transport us by helicopter so we can get to the scene quickly. QUOTE]


Thats wonderful! I wish it was that way here. Where in WA are you? I am hoping to move in that general direction in the next few years (although Im looking at Oregon because of their vet clinics). I know there is a lot of missing hikers and such there so Im sure there is a much greater use for you....Its amazing that the sheriffs office is so resourceful! I bet it saves a lot of people not waiting days to call the teams out!!
 

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I'm with King County Search and Rescue Association, the dog unit is King County Search Dogs.

There is a vet and a vet tech in our unit, and it is very helpful to be able to get their help when needed.

Yes there are hikers and such that get lost but the main reason we get called out is that we have a great relationship with the SO. They know our capabilities and see us as a resource that can be called upon when needed. Sometimes missions don't require dogs, such as carryouts of injured hikers or clearing of blackberries looking for evidence. We do a lot of that too.

There are some good groups in Oregon; we have an an annual event in WA where handlers from all over the Pacific Northwest get together for a weekend and train with our dogs.

Thats wonderful! I wish it was that way here. Where in WA are you? I am hoping to move in that general direction in the next few years (although Im looking at Oregon because of their vet clinics). I know there is a lot of missing hikers and such there so Im sure there is a much greater use for you....Its amazing that the sheriffs office is so resourceful! I bet it saves a lot of people not waiting days to call the teams out!!
 

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I know we won't let a handler do cadaver until they have trained a dog in another discipline ..not sure how other teams handle that.. and air scent is good lead in, because HR is like air scent but with a lot more nuances (scent levels can range from miniscule to huge, now you are dealing with ground water, soil variations, buried, scattered, fresh, aged often for a decade or more, underwater, etc.

There are schools of thought on the kind of dog that makes a good cadaver dog but to me an insanely ball or tug driven dog with no fear and a lot of agility and soundness is what you need. Some people do train with food though and have had succesful dogs so it is a matter of great argument whenever the topic comes up...in any regard you want a dog that is intrigued and not put off by the odor. If they don't like it no point pushing it.
Out of curiosity, why don't you let a handler do cadaver until they've done something else?

Anyhow, I'll comment on this thread even though I don't do SAR...as I'm in another field that "everyone" wants to do. I don't think their attitude towards certification is really wise. Yes, bad apples get through the cracks with certification (but if more SAR people would push for better evaluations of skills, this can change), but when you are doing work in which human lives or evidence is at stake you really need to back up the work you are doing. The best/easiest way to do this is making certification mean something.

Literally, my field is going through the exact same motions with certification versuse not being certified and what that certification means. The best way to make sure you are showing your skills to their fullest is to make a certification be an excellent represention of the field.

I realize that SAR is generally volunteer, but I don't think this is something that people should be messing around with, and I hope that that email isn't a accurate representation of what all SAR grounps feel about it and there are ones out there genuinely trying to make those "hu?" certified dogs an exception rather than a rule.
 
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