When 12-year-old Kendra and her dog failed to return from a solo hike in the mountains near Aspen, searchers from the sheriff's department and other campers looked for hours but were unable to find her. In the small hours of the night Wendy Wampler got a call summoning her and her Australian shepherd, Jazz, to do what the others had been unable to do find Kendra. Wampler and Jazz are a well-trained team, certified for wilderness searches by Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado (SARDOC). Starting at the point where Kendra was last seen, Jazz began following the girl's eight-hour-old trail and, just before dawn, led Wampler to the edge of a large field of boulders. "I called out her name again, and this time she responded," recalls Wampler. "I was so relieved."
Wampler and other search-dog handlers know that people will expect a lot from their pets. Some will expect miracles. The intensive training that the dogs and their owners go through in order to live up to those expectations is the subject of an article by Catherine Dold. "Maintaining the skills of both dog and handler can require as many as a thousand hours of work a year," says Dold. Reporting from a SARDOC "Confidence Weekend," Dold introduces Sue Purvis and Tasha, her search-dog-in-training, as they go through a sort of doggy Olympics, facing challenges designed to strengthen the trust between dog and handler. Dold follows dogs and their owners through specialized training for avalanche rescues, cadaver searches, and certification by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as urban disaster search teams, the hardest specialty of all.