Okanagan SAR teams add search dogs to roster

First K9s added to SAR

Sarita Patel

Search and Rescue teams from Kelowna and Oliver/Osoyoos have added four-legged members to their teams.

Labrador retriever Chase and German shepherd Kaya were validated last week in Merritt by RCMP Police Dog Services at the BC Search Dog Association’s training course.

“The team has been so excited it’s been an 18 month waiting period for them, so everybody is eagerly awaiting now that he can actually get deployed,” said Terry Downs of COSAR, Chase’s handler.

“We never want to get deployed but should the situation arise he’s ready to go now.”

“From a search point of view, I always say every second counts,” said Mike Arychuk of OOSAR, Kaya’s handler.

Downs says search dogs dramatically cut down the time it takes to find someone, which helps the team conserve energy and resources.

“A search dog has superior nose capabilities for finding lost people or evidence of articles of clothing. Essentially they’re equivalent to 20 to 30 ground searchers,” adds Arychuk. 

Both Kaya and Chase are regular pets when they’re home but once their search vests are on, it’s go time. 

“Physically he’s like an athlete, like a high-performance gymnast … and then mentally he’s kind of like Albert Einstein — he has to be stimulated,” explains Downs, referring to Chase’s training sessions. 

“We need to remain mission-ready so in the event somebody is lost that he isn’t stale with his skills.”

Kaya is a much more vocal and energetic dog than Chase. Arychuk says if she doesn’t work on a problem for an hour or two daily, she gets boisterous. 

“Really it’s been five-days-a-week, it’s an hour or two doing stuff ever since came home at eight-and-a-half weeks, when we started to train with her."

Kaya and Chase have yet to be deployed, but as seasoned searchers, Mike and Terry say emotions run high when you find what you’re looking for. 

"Usually, tears of elation,” says Arychuk, who’s owned a K9 search dog once before. “When you find them it’s not about rewarding the dog at this point it’s about making sure that person is healthy, making sure if they need medical attention they get it.”

He says after the victim is attended to it’s a moment of pure joy that can’t be imitated. 

Chase comes from a family of search dogs and has about 20 cousins that serve as avalanche search dogs. 

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