OSAGE BEACH, Mo. – As the busy lake season has come to an end, here’s a look into how the Osage Beach Fire Protection District uses its search-and-rescue canine squad to keep lake goers safe.
Roughly 19 years ago, the OBFPD canine rescue team began its mission in the lake area, becoming the only local entity to use a canine SAR team. OBFPD currently deploys German Shepherds and a Border Collie, and will soon send their newest member – a blue Doberman Pinscher – into action, while Maverick the Labrador will be retiring from the team.
The canines are owned by volunteers of the department and participate in joint training sessions every Tuesday evening. Handlers also attend major SAR canine training conferences and host dog training specialists from time to time.
“We’ll get nationally certified trainers and bring them in,” OBFPD correspondent Ray Shadow said. “We use them to help correct any issues we are having and to help tighten things up a little bit.”
Shadow says the canines do not understand many commands, but mostly recognize the word “find” as an instruction to sniff out human scent. In order for the dogs to efficiently find SAR victims, the team lines up and allows the dogs to sniff them before a search mission begins. Once the canines have located a missing person, they will make a beeline back to their handlers and lead the team to the victim.
There were a total of 3 rescues carried about by the canine unit this season. Most breeds can be trained for the job, but Shadow says canines with shorter legs cannot get through brush as efficiently as their larger counterparts.
According to Shadow, the best kind of SAR dogs are the ones who like to play the most. He says the department pays close attention to this trait before hiring a new team member. SAR dogs are often rewarded with playtime and treats after successful training or an actual mission.
All rescue canines are equipped with Garmin GPS tracking devices in case they find trouble or can’t be found. All volunteers and their animals are supported by the OBFPD, which provides computers, a training space and liability insurance.
The department attends local community events with its SAR canines to let the public know they are available for rescue missions.
“I hope they appreciate having a working team in the area. It’s been great.”