Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Some of the Lehigh Valley's Unsung Heroes ... and Their Four-Legged Friends

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingEver take your young son to a grocery store, turn around for just a tic, and then realize he's gone? You get this sinking feeling in your stomach as you imagine all the terrible things that could have happened. And then, just like that, it's over. He'll pop up with a smile on his face. Or you'll hear a page over the intercom, "Will Peter Parker's father please report to the courtesy desk?"

All's well with the world again.

This is a story about some local folks who do everything they can to make sure all remains well. They look for missing loved ones, from children to the elderly. Digging deeply into their own pockets for funding, they train twice every week in search techniques. Rarely thanked for their troubles, they do have some incredibly affectionate four-legged friends. These are true heroes. They're the Lehigh Valley's Search and Rescue Team, and they consistently prove that dog really is man's best friend.

I met a few last week when they trained at Nazareth park. My brother, an excited seven year old grandson and I met them at 8 AM on a raw and wet Saturday. Team members Brenda Richards and Jim Roberts impressed me immediately with their organizational skills. They had piping hot coffee and doughnuts for one and all. But their canine companions stole the show. Cujo, a rookie German Shepherd, nervously waited for two hours until everything was in place. He had to endure my grandson's inquisitive puppy, who kept jumping in Cujo's face like a groupie. The headliners, yellow labs Blue and Okie, were waiting in their trailer. No autographs.

When the show started, my young grandson was hidden behind a tree, several hundred yards away. The only thing these dogs knew about him was what his tee-shirt smelled like. With just that one piece of information, they tracked him down almost immediately. Either my grandson stinks or they've got some powerful noses.

And I thought I had a big schnozz.

My brother was next. He was not hidden in park grounds. He actually was somewhere deep in the hilly adjoining forest, which was separated from the park by a stream raging from all the rain. So instead of "tracking," the trainers decided to use the "air scent" technique. Okie was suited up with some kind of orange vest, and she tore off, with bells jingling.

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAn air scent search is an awesome sight. A dog races back and forth, occasionally returning to its trainer. It picks up human scents in air currents and look for its origin, circling closer and closer. Within about fifteen minutes, my brother was "rescued." Once Okie found my brother, he bounded back to trainer Brenda Richards, and tapped her with his paws to let her know he was successful. Then he led her to the "victim."

At this point, I wanted to be a victim, too. Why should my brother, grandson and those damn dogs have all the fun? But Nazareth Borough Councilman Larry Stoudt ruined everything. He showed up to offer his encouragement, and recognized me as I tried to hide behind my grandson. He told the team they should do a cadaver search for me. Then he drove off, laughing at his own joke. I took some shots at Count Stoudt earlier this summer, but cadaver? I shower every week, whether I need it or not. I think Stoudt smelled my brother.

These folks train as a team in different locations every other week. This is in addition to practice sessions at home. Is it worth it? A glance at their mission log answers that.

You can donate to this group. You might even volunteer to act as a victim. But there is one thing I should have done last Saturday, and that is thank them and their canine companions for what really amounts to selfless love.


Anonymous said...

Check out www.familywatchdog.us for a resource that may help protect your kids & your community.

Key in your address (even RR Box #s will prove effective) to see the potential threats in your neighborhood.

I was surprised at how many convicted sex offenders live amongst us.

Anonymous said...

Hey Bernie, It was great to have you and your family come out and volunteer as "subjects" for our dogs. Valley Search and Rescue is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that is dedicated to providing the best trained search and rescue resources when duty calls. The dogs are just one resource this team has to offer. We hope you'll come out and work with us again in the future!! Thanks Again!!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Brenda, It was lots of fun and I sure learned a lot. We'll be out again for sure.

Anonymous said...

What a nice story. Here I thought all Bernie posted about was political shenanigans, now he goes all gooey. Of course, it is his Grandson, so that makes it acceptable, and it is about dogs, the most trustworthy of all our friends. Double Nice Post!

Bernie O'Hare said...

Chris, They're a nice group, even the people.

Anonymous said...

It was a great morning. Well worth the investment of time. I wish the team all the best and look forward to working with them in the future. Nice writting Bernie!