FORT STEELE – The Goshen County Sheriff's Search and Rescue K-9 Team returned last Sunday, the 13th, from a five-day training and certification with Master Trainer Kyle Rosentreter of the K-9 Academy.
The training and certifications took place five miles outside Fort Steele, according to Jerry Numon, search and rescue co-director and certified K-9 handler.
Numon said Goshen County sent a Malinois and three German Shepherds. The group returned home with three nationally certified Wilderness Human Remains Detection (HRD) K-9 Teams and one Operational Tracking Team. Handler Tennille Grosz said though the county is small, they have some amazing dogs.
Along with the dogs, three handlers and two flankers attended. Numon said a flanker’s job is to follow behind to look for evidence, help the handler, monitor wind direction and monitor the dogs.
“They work their tails off,” Numon said. “They learned a lot because they were with Kyle when we were working, they could listen to his comments, and he could teach them.”
Numon estimated there were a total of 15 dogs at the event. The days lasted from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. and consisted of lectures and fieldwork, said Numon.
“These people that have certified, they work five to seven days a week. People have no idea how much time people have to put in,” Numon said.
Grosz has been working with her dog Winston since October. This was Winston’s first national certification, according to Grosz.
“It’s a huge commitment,” she said. “But it’s important to us. I want to be able to bring closure to family members who have lost a loved one.”
Numon said certification took place in three fields, each from 40 to 80 acres.
“It was extremely nerve wracking because I had never been to anything on a national level like this before,” Grosz said.
Numon said teams would have 20 minutes for each field. One field has no HRD. Grosz said for her certification, one item was above ground and the other was buried a foot underground. The items sit in the field for three days prior to certification, according to Numon.
Grosz said Winston and the team worked three fields. When Winston detected the scent of human remains, she said he would lay down and not leave that spot.
Though they had to stop a couple times to get cactus spines out of his paws, Winston worked until he found the scent in the first two fields. The third field was empty, so Grosz said they could relax a little while searching that one.
“The problem we had on the one day that I tested was we had 60 to 70 mile an hour wind gusts,” he said. “The dog really worked hard.” Numon said the item they searched for was a piece of one inch by one half inch cloth with blood on it.
There were three or four beginner dogs and handlers at the event that learned a lot but did not test for certification. Numon said it is important for dogs to end on a positive note, so they do not test until the dogs are ready.
The dogs that were not certified have about a year before they will be ready, Numon said. Obedience training is key, along with scent work. Dogs must learn that the only scent they should focus on is human remains, which consists of around 480 different scents, he said.
Though the main focus of the training was HRD and tracking, attendees also learned about criminal behavior.
“With search and rescue, getting the dog there first is the most important thing people can do,” he said.
Numon said K-9s have several different uses in search and rescue operations – tracking people and detecting human remains in different areas, including lakes. These dogs can track ground disturbance and scents.
According to Newman, he and Tennille Grosz will be heading to Indiana in October for the Law Enforcement Training Specialists (LETS) training and certification. There, they will work a variety of buildings and vehicles.