Mission Possible

A "Tail" of Amazing Animals

I gasped with fear and panic. "Sassie is missing!" my husband, Ed, declared on the telephone on New Year's Eve. He explained that he and Sassie, our rescued Golden Retriever, had gone on their morning ritual to the mailbox to get the newspaper. Once there, the mailbox tumbled over, having been accidentally knocked down and replaced unsteadily. The huge bang startled Sassie so badly, "she bolted, ignoring my calls," Ed continued.

I was 1,000 miles away from home visiting family in Connecticut, and I felt totally helpless. As I sobbed, Ed told me calls to friends, veterinarians, the Humane Society and Hilton Head Plantation Security had been made and everyone was on alert. After our conversation, my thoughts jumped to an organization usually focused on finding humans, but also searches for missing pets. Locating the number, I pleaded with Dan Fuller, Founder and Director of Urban Search and Rescue and Master K9 Handler, for his help.  He calmly explained, "Our last search for a dog, whose owner offered a huge reward for his return, resulted in nothing for our organization, even though the dog was found.  We foot all the expenses to help families, so without financial help, we've had to stop pet searching. Anyway, it's a holiday, and most of my trackers are out of town. Sorry." I cried hysterically, and finally, Dan added, "If I locate anyone in town willing to do it, I'll call your husband."

Less than an hour later Buddy, a crackerjack German Shepherd, and his owners, Sonia and Carlos Geiss, of Geiss and Sons Jewelers, were on the case. A few sniffs of Sassie's car blanket, and Buddy, on Sonia's command, was nose to ground, straining on the 30-foot lead attached to his official "Search Dog" vest. Through woods and golf courses, he tracked Sassie's scent to the O'Brien's, good friends of ours with whom Sassie dines and spends occasional nights. They live a mile away. Finding no one there, Sassie's trail continued towards our home, but never made it. Hours passed.  Buddy persisted until nearly dark when Sonia promised they would return the next morning to continue the search.

Later, I discovered the many hours she spends training Buddy and her other German Shepherd, Lucas, attending weeklong classes in Indiana, Tennessee, and South Carolina. "We have achieved two levels of certification," Sonia lovingly patted Buddy. "Certifications are for Live Find (air scenting for first live human, found until correct one); Tracking/Trailing; Cadaver/Land/Water; Disaster/Live Find; and Disaster/Cadaver. Offered by American Man Trailing Police and Work Dog Association, classes are intense and usually require 13-hour workdays. Reinforcement and additional knowledge are gained in our weekly training sessions here, which are carefully documented. I love assisting people and working with my dogs, who respond happily to praise for jobs well done," said Sonia.
Right before nightfall, in another part of Hilton Head Plantation, a passenger in a passing car spotted Sassie (who despises water) sitting in a lagoon near Spring Lake. Sensing a problem, the Kieffers turned their car around and pulled Sassie from the lagoon. "Cars stopped, offering towels to dry her," said Cathey Kieffer. Our friends, the Lawrence's, passing the rescue scene, recognized Sassie and notified security. Her feet raw, exhaustion overcoming her, Sassie eased from Officer Little's squad car and limped into Ed's arms. After a warm bath, soothing hugs, and welcoming kisses, Sassie slept peacefully, dreaming of her prince, Buddy, who had tirelessly searched with relentless dedication. Words cannot express the gratitude to Buddy and Sonia for their dedication and devotion.

More About Urban Search
& Rescue K9 (USARK9)

A rare form of cancer was claiming Dan Fuller's brilliant K9, Bubba, so I rushed to meet him mid-January. Arriving with a donation in hand, I was encouraged to find a much peppier Bubba than expected. As we exchanged niceties, I mentally said hello and farewell to this magnificent fellow, trained in Live Find Wilderness Search, Cadaver, and Water Rescue. Pulling his companion of ten years close, Vietnam Vet, Special Forces member, Dan, reminisced about Bubba, "This guy once alerted a purse ten-feet below a manhole cover that had been taken during an armed robbery three months prior! He's my best friend, and I'm very proud of all we've accomplished together. It's all about praise and love, you understand...the unconditional kind they so freely give us."

On a later visit with Dan, who feels his life experiences as a pilot and combat medic contributed to his formation of USARK9, I met Bubba's pal, Falcon. Wow, what a beauty! The longhaired shepherd nuzzled into my neck, becoming my instant friend. Dan humbly mentioned his water prowess that enabled him to tow two humans a quarter-of-a-mile out in the ocean to safety. Amazingly, USARK9 services are offered free to municipalities, but costs to handlers are enormous. USARK9 offers seminars demonstrating training techniques in rescuing people and pets for the community. The room overflowed with expensive, technically related equipment required for handlers and their K9 companions, who happily equate the donning of their search vests as a  "go" signal. "They think of it as hide and seek, considering it play," smiled Dan. "Yet, they understand the seriousness when loved ones are missing. Our K9s are very competent and mentally tough. We often deploy ten vehicles with handlers (many women) and K9s, requiring fuel and hotel expenses, usually miles away. Our requests come from up and down the East Coast, including the Caylee Anthony case.  It's a truly unique bond existing between handler and dog, and the love shared is most therapeutic." 

Visit usark9.org and support these amazing rescue dogs and handlers for their brave, often dangerous, work to find those we cherish!