|Kennel Club Grant Helps Search & Rescue K-9s|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
11:20AM / Sunday, June 17, 2012
|Berkshire Mountain Search And Rescue members brought their support trailer to Wednesday's grant presentation to show the American Kennel Club exactly what the money will be used for.|
STOCKBRIDGE, Mass. — Dogs are certainly taking care of people when they are dispatched to sniff the air and trudge through the woods to help find a missing person.
Michael Comeau, BMSAR president, said he hopes to get a first aid kit for every dog on the team.
But after trudging through wooden terrain, waiting to be deployed, or working in harsh weather, who takes care of the dogs? The American Kennel Club does.
On Wednesday, the American Kennel Club presented the Berkshire Mountain Search and Rescue Team an $1,820 grant to purchase K-9 first aid kits, dog boots and protective vests.
"All the little things can add up. This will be used for anything to support our K-9 partners," rescue team member Michael Thomes said.
The money could go toward training or dog Global Positioning Satellite systems as well. The team has five regularly used K-9 dogs of various breeds. While the team is deployed less than a dozen times a year, the dogs train on at least a weekly basis.
Team President Michael Comeau said K-9 first aid kits will be purchased for each of the dogs and other protective materials. Comeau said he hopes to protect the dogs in inclement weather.
"We'd like to have every K-9 in the field to have one of these," Comeau said pointing to the kit, which contained items such as ointments, disinfectants and bandages. "We're glad to have a great rapport with AKC. Without them, we wouldn't have all this."
The team purchased a trailer, also with the help of AKC funds, three years ago that has food and bedding for people but also dog dishes, food and bedding for their K-9 friends as well.
The dogs are of various breeds, including poodles, and specially trained for "air scent." Former State Trooper Neal Raymond, now a BMSAR member, said that while technology is changing the way search and rescues are done, there is still a need for the K-9s.
"It is an evolving field. There is all this new technology but four legs and a tail always works," Raymond told the Kennel Club members.
Raymond said any dog owner can join the club but it takes years of training before the animal can be used in the field. Additionally, he said the owners are asked to become "ground pounders" — helping search on foot — first to understand the human element. Comeau said Raymond is an experienced trainer and while the breed may not matter, Raymond can tell pretty quickly if the dog is trainable.
The Great Barrington American Kennel Club branch presented the grant but it was awarded by the national office. This is the third year that the search team has applied and was granted funding.
AKC branch President Michael McClay presented the grant to Michael Thomes at the Stockbridge Grange on Wednesday.
"This comes right from the home office of AKC," branch President Michael McClay said. "They pick and choose who they give to."
Comeau said the money is helping build the team back up. The organization once had more than 100 members and included dive teams and aerial rescues. However, the numbers kept dwindling until three years ago, when Comeau took over and set himself to rebuilding the team.
Currently, there are about 25 people focusing mostly on search-and-rescue or recovery. It consists of "ground pounders" and the K-9s.
While they could not talk specifically about cases, Comeau and Thomes said they've been called in to search as far away as Rutland, Vt., upstate New York and outside of Worcester. They work closely with state police and private investigators - many of the times in assisting missing persons investigations and in recovering bodies.
"We support local law enforcement agencies as needed to search for missing persons," Thomes said. "We are strictly volunteer. We do not get paid a penny."
By the end of the year, Thomes said they hope to create a certified Community Emergency Response Team to help distribute food, direct traffic and other such tasks during a major emergency.
"Directing traffic doesn't sound that hard but you need to be certified," Thomes said. "We think we can help the community that way. We would like to be exposed to CERT training by the end of 2012."
The group is also in the process of updating radio communication and members have been going to elementary schools to teach children what to do if they get lost in the woods.
Comeau said there is a need for more volunteers so they are going to become a presence at fairs and other events to promote the team.
Neal Raymond, a K-9 trainer, said he jokes about going from training Rottweilers with the state police to training poodles for search teams.
"We're building," Comeau said. "Volunteers have to like to be outside and have to like helping people they don't know."
Promoting the club may be yet another way the AKC can help. On Wednesday, members of the AKC began conversations with Comeau about bringing the trailer to an event they are having in the fall.
The AKC branch Vice President Honor Bloom said the club is hosting a Responsible Dog Owner weekend in September that will feature shows and a dog-diving competition.
"It's to showcase all the things you can do with the dog," Bloom said.
The non-profit club hosts events and shows to raise money, which is in turn donated to animal causes. AKC has supported animal shelters and the Humane Society and purchased protective vests for police dogs. It also hosts clinics for vaccinations and microchipping.
"Many people think of us as just a registry but we do a lot more than that," Bloom said.