Working on the water

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Search dog team takes to the water in hopes of saving lives

By John Whitlock

It didn’t take Rosa long to catch the smell of human blood.
Before she and the other potential rescuers moved into the search area, Rosa was reacting to the scent.
Intently looking out at the water at Elmer Davis Lake, Rosa, a 7-year-old German shepherd, sniffed and offered her owner some clues that what they were searching for was near.
Rosa spotted a piece of debris with slight blood spatters and immediately lead her owner to the site.
“When they get close to something, you can tell. The dog will tell you,” Patty Petzinger, Rosa’s owner and president of Grand Paws Search Dog Association, said.
 As part of a training exercise for Grand Paws, the dogs and their owners were given a scenario to work within — a young boy, last seen in a small fishing boat, had disappeared and was presumed in the water.
It would be up to the dogs to find the boy in the water.
Before the dogs took to the water, Grand Paws members stood on the shore and asked questions of a police dispatcher  there to help conduct the training session.
It’s part of Grand Paws mission to be ready for any event they may be called upon to help with.
“We take this very seriously and so do the dogs,” Petzinger said. “Lives could be on the line anytime we are called out to help. We have to make sure the dogs and our members are prepared.”
Although conducting a land search can be difficult, the element of water adds a new dimension and difficulty for the dogs.
“If the wind is up and the water is choppy, it can be very difficult, but the dogs can succeed when people might not,” Petzinger said.
Because a human body emits oils that will float to the surface of the water, the dogs are uniquely able to help in a water search for a missing person.
In the training mission, volunteers placed clues within a 100-yard section of the lake — including a baseball cap, a shoe and a piece of debris that was marked with a substance that would smell like human blood to the dogs.
Each of the five dogs that attended were taking out on a small rescue boat and given a chance to find the clues.
“These kinds of training sessions are just as important for us as it is for the dogs,” Petzinger said. “They have skills and they know what to do, but everyone needs to know how to react in any given situation.”