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K-9 Search and Rescue training brings Oregon teams to Oakland

April 29, 2019

“What these guys can do with their noses is awesome,” K-9 handler Jenny Riesen says.

Storm, a 4-year-old German shepherd, circles a small trailer and stops at the passenger tire. He looks up at Riesen.

“It’s like he’s saying ‘it’s here, don’t you smell it?’” Riesen says.

She gives him a little encouragement and he gives his solid indicator, sitting, to tell her he found it. He found the week-old blood smeared on the tire.

He’s one of dozens of dogs from counties all over Oregon at the annual training hosted by the Douglas County Search and Rescue K-9 program and supported by the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office at Mildred Kanipe Park over the weekend.

The volunteer program team leaders, Cathy Schneider and Linda Coffel, started scoping out the park in January to see where they wanted to set up scenarios for human remains detection, air scent, trailing and night searches.

“It’s 1,100 acres of beautiful and true conditions of our area,” Coffel said. “It’s hide and seek with the dog. We’re teaching them to go in on the scent, no matter what, go in on the scent.”

After the record-breaking snowstorm in February, the team helped clear out the trails they would need for their own purposes and to give back to the park. The team sent out invitations to all the search and rescue commanders in Oregon to come train together for the weekend.

“We try to throw things out that people don’t get all the time,” Coffel said. “Douglas County is known for doing things and wanting to be the best.”

Poppy, a 2-year-old yellow lab, is a “firecracker” during her training. Handler Chris Sutton rewards her for finding the stinky rag bearing the smell of human remains by throwing a short, thick, braided rope at her and playing tug-of-war for a few seconds, then it’s onto the next scenario.

“It seems like you always need (search and rescue dogs) and there’s never enough,” Sutton said.

Sutton has been working with Douglas County Search and Rescue K-9 since the fall but has been training search and rescue dogs since 2006 in Colorado. He is training Poppy to be a disaster search and rescue dog.

He said having dogs to check out a situation before sending in a rescue team can save lives and reduce risks.

John Bischoff is the only search and rescue dog handler in Curry County. He met Schneider at an agility training and she convinced him to get his dog at the time into search and rescue. He has trained at least three dogs to find missing people or evidence in the last nine years.

“(My dog) took to it like white on rice,” Bischoff said. “And it’s addictive. There’s something very satisfying about making a find.”

Bischoff’s 5-year-old border collie-Labrador retriever mix, Keela, has yet to find someone in Curry County, but Bischoff said last time was his fault. He’s 77, has been training for nine years, but is still learning how to help his dogs do their job even better.

“I never thought I’d be in search and rescue,” Bischoff said. “I’d read in the paper about search and rescue and think, ‘oh, that’s great.’ I never thought I’d end up in it.”

Cindy Lemcke drove over 300 miles to come to the training and said she wouldn’t miss it. She brought her two German shepherds, 3-year-old, long-haired Gabby and 9-month-old, mix Oakie. She is the only search and rescue handler in Grant County.

“There’s so many people from all different areas and all different experiences in the same place,” Lemcke said. “They come from all over and you get all these difference experiences all in one spot. I’m kind of isolated from new ideas, so coming to something like this helps me grow by leaps and bounds.”