Teamwork. The word swirled in my head as I observed the partners’ focus on the mission awaiting them. Messi took sniffs of a piece of cloth covered in the girl’s scent while Trey surveyed the woods nearby. And then, with Trey’s command to begin we took off behind an eager Messi, hoping to locate the “lost” girl. Her nose leading the way, we followed her through a field, down a fence line and into thick woods. And then just when we seemed to stall, it happened … Messi’s nose caught a scent and within seconds triumphant barking signaled her find. She rushed back, excitedly alerted Trey with her trained indication to follow and then led us to the girl. After praise and treats from Trey, Messi barked celebrating another successful search and rescue training mission.
Trey Todd and his 7-year-old Labrador Messi are just one of the handler and dog teams volunteering with the Louisiana Search and Rescue Dog Team. Following two years of research and subsequent development of a training program, LaSAR was founded in January 1991 by Lisa Higgins as a volunteer based, self-funded nonprofit focused on the search and rescue of lost or missing individuals. The program requires tremendous dedication by teams who must complete intense training, tests and strict national certification standards before participating in searches. Additionally, each pair trains to perform searches in one or more of the SAR disciplines, including live wilderness and urban searches, and human remains detection at disasters, homicides and drownings.
Every Saturday volunteer teams meet at Louisiana area locations to work in each of these disciplines. This particular morning, I had the privilege of observing a joint training of LaSAR K-9s and the LA Task Force 1 K-9s exposing the dogs to different settings: a building, a trailer, a rubble pile and abandoned vehicles. I was surprised to see the incredible variety of breeds, including 1-year-old Beagle Charlie just two months into training, the more experienced 5-year-old Australian Shepherd Niko and the energetic Belgian Malinois Katrina, all practicing in their specialized areas.
LaSAR isn’t a calling one finds accidentally; I laughed when avid outdoorsman Trey shared his introduction to the group by friends touting LaSAR would offer an opportunity to “hunt” with his dog all year – and for a worthy cause. But LaSAR is more than a hobby for Trey and the group of multi-generational volunteers who truly are “committed to assisting the community by training dogs and their handlers to excel in the rescue or recovery of those in need. They work in conjunction with law enforcement agencies as a team to bring about a successful conclusion to the search.” LaSAR has answered more than 650 calls to provide their services following natural disasters, missing persons reports, urban disasters and FBI cases across eight states and Canada. Although the team is based in St. Tammany Parish, LaSAR is available to all local, state and federal agencies at any time, with no cost to the agency or family.
One volunteer shared, “If I could help just one person in my lifetime through canine search and rescue it’s worth all the 6 a.m. wake up calls, night searches and endless training.” I won’t soon forget witnessing the unique bond between each dog and owner and will remain inspired by and thankful for LaSAR’s mission and service to our community in times of need.
A little more …
To learn more and to request LaSAR for a search, call (985) 690-4220 or visit LaSARDogs.org.