Stand-down’ order allows dog team time to heal, too

It was a bittersweet moment when members of the Kauai Search and Rescue canine team were told the search for four missing Kauaians would end a week after flooding in Kilauea took out two homes and claimed at least three lives, members said.

“We were asked to stand down,” said Janice Olsen of Princeville, a team member and dance instructor.

“It was a hard thing,” but gave both the handlers, other volunteers, and the dogs time to rest, get back to their regular jobs, and heal, she said.

“It was very sad, because we live here,” said Olsen.

By the same token, the experience should impress to everyone the need to be prepared for a variety of disasters, including having fresh batteries, drinking water, non-perishable foods and other supplies on hand at home.

“We’re working on it,” she said of the healing process, while also being disappointed about the search being called off. “We never give up,” she stressed.

The volunteers searched during daylight hours for seven days straight.

The active team is down to around five members, as “the rest had to go back to life or lose everything,” she said. Those that remain, and other members who have come and gone, have “very understanding bosses,” she said.

Olsen, a flanker, tracker and navigator on the team, related that a flanker watches the back of a volunteer searcher and his or her dog, reads the dog for signs the dog has found something, and otherwise provides support.

The star of the team, and the only animal to pick up any human scent after flood waters took out some homes along Wailapa Steam in Kilauea on March 14, is Tigger, the catahoula owned and handled by Juliet Moncrief of Kekaha.

Tigger recently won certification in disaster, wilderness, human-remains detection, urban, air-scenting and trailing. “She has all her credentials now,” said Olsen, who with Tigger, Moncrief and others had just wrapped up.

The Kauai Search and Rescue canine unit, whose members just received federal non-profit status, is part of a larger organization, the National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR).

“Our unit was formed after concerned citizens like you and I got together, and decided that there must be an easier way to search for missing or lost persons on the island of Kaua’i,” Olsen continued.

“Although this is not a new idea, and it has been tried in the past, we have taken this idea to the next level, and are in the process of becoming a fully-activated, canine-search-and-rescue team on the island, she said.

Members of the Kauai Search and Rescue team will be working with officials with the Kaua’i Police Department and the Kaua’i Fire Department, she said.

When asked by KPD officers, team members will provide assistance in searching for lost or missing persons.

“We intend to provide whatever ground-search personnel and search dogs that are available, to help in locating the missing child or adult,” she continued.

Team members recently explained their mission and demonstrated their capabilities to KPD personnel, she continued.

“We have conducted demonstrations for church groups, schools, and other organizations, whenever it could be arranged,” she added.

“Our trained and certified personnel of our all-volunteer unit have been training over the past few years, honing our skills, and are now looking forward to providing our services to the public,” she said.

Each individual and dog goes through extensive classroom, practical field training and testing, for every course taken. A certification is only given to the student after successfully passing each course.

Several team members and dogs recently wrapped up several days of more training and field-certification testing on private property owned by Larry Bowman in Moloa’a.

The Kauai Search and Rescue dog-team members train dogs in two styles of search disciplines:

  • Air scenting: used to search a large area to locate any or all individuals within the search area;
  • Trailing (track scenting): used to follow a specific trail made by an individual in the search area.

Team members use various breeds of dogs, such as Australian shepherd, Belgian malinois, catahoula, German shepherd, and Labrador retriever.

Their specialty is wilderness, with additional certifications in urban, disaster and human-remains detection.

For more information, call Kuma Davis, 651-8878.

Brad Farkas, a frequent island visitor from Gilbert, Ariz., breeds vizslas dogs there, “and would consider donating one of our future pups” to a team member, he said in an e-mail.

“Vizslas are a Hungarian pointer bird-dog with exceptional noses and hunting ability. Temperament of the dog is very owner-pleasing and non-aggressive,” he explained.

“Our family is in love with your island and the people, so we visit whenever possible. We are deeply saddened by the recent events on the island, and wish the best for all affected,” he said.

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