Dogs bone up on search, rescue skills at South Connellsville training | TribLIVE.com
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The search and rescue dogs rely on their keen sense of smell to find those who have become lost. During training in South Connellsville, Sundance, the Golden Retriever was given a shirt by his handler, John Osheka to pick up the scent of his first search subject.

South Connellsville went to the dogs on Saturday, as search and rescue dogs clawed into the community to work to stay sharp and focused.

Using examples of real-life scenarios experienced by the instructors during years of working in law enforcement, search and rescue handlers and their dogs spent last weekend working on honing their skills and handling techniques.

Search and rescue teams and individual handlers spent Saturday in South Connellsville, working with their dogs to track and locate individuals who volunteered to be a part of the exercise.

“We are excited to be a part of this,” South Connellsville Mayor Pete Casini said of the day in which many members of the South Connellsville Volunteer Fire Department volunteered to be used as “targets” for the dogs to locate. “She (Valerie Faris of the Fayette County Sheriff’s Tactical Search and Rescue Team) talked to me about this back in July, and I said then that we would be interested and we would do what we could to help.”

Hosted by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Tactical Search and Rescue Team, the two-day event welcomed more than a dozen handlers to work in both an urban setting for one day in South Connellsville, followed by a more rural setting in Jumonville.

“Everything ended up working out really well; both locations were great,” Faris said of the two days spent with the teams. “It was a great way for the K-9 teams to increase their skills.”

Lead instructor Luis Lebetter of Palm Beach, Fla., said that the focus of the exercise is safety first.

“Safety is paramount,” Ledbetter said. “You must always keep safety in mind at all times.”

Ledbetter said that a good search and rescue team is all about cooperation between the human and the canine and the handling of the situation at hand.

“You can have the best dog in the world, but it all depends on how you handle him,” Ledbetter said. “You have to work as a team to really be reliable, and the person that is actually handling the dog is the person that is training him.”

For the urban setting, second lead instructor Dave Garner of Baltimore County in Maryland said that they would use actual examples of cases to work with the dogs in that type of area.

“We have many years in law enforcement, and we will use experiences that we have encountered such as missing children, Alzheimer’s patients and elderly who are confused who may wander off and go to somewhere such as a convenience store,” Garner said. “Different people do different things, and we will apply those experiences to help the handlers to improve their tracking skills.”

When the handlers were finished with the two days, they could opt to test to become certified, or move up in the certification level that included three levels.

“This was an interesting way for our guys to help and for the handlers to get a little more experience,” South Connellsville Volunteer Fire Chief Jeremy Grubbs said. “We are always willing to do something to help, and we know how important the jobs of the search and rescue teams are.”

Marilyn Forbes is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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