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Aug 26, 2009 12:58 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Rescue dogs put on a show at town shelter

Aug 26, 2009 12:58 PM

Chuck Kraft hid in the patch of woods across from the Southampton Town Animal Shelter as Tow, a bloodhound from Long Island Search and Rescue, his slobbering jowls and flopping ears dragging along the ground, locked in on his scent, sucking up every trace. His nose pumped like a vacuum cleaner across the grass.

When Tow finally found Mr. Kraft, a shelter employee playing the part of a lost hiker, he was rewarded with biscuits from his owner and handler, Deb Sardone, Long Island Search and Rescue’s team manager.

Members of Ms. Sardone’s group, a volunteer organization established in 2006, recently took part in the shelter’s first-ever open house. They demonstrated the skills and services the group, and especially the dogs, are capable of delivering to the public.

The open house in early August was the shelter’s first but, according to Assistant Supervisor Christine Russell, probably not the last. “I’d like to make this a yearly event,” Ms. Russell said.

During the open house, the shelter offered vaccines, heartworm testing and microchips for $15 and served about 40 pets. Microchips are tiny devices, about the size of a grain of rice, Ms. Russell said, that are injected under the skin between the shoulder blades of dogs and cats. When a lost pet is found, the chip is scanned revealing the owner’s contact information. Ms. Russell said about 25 pets got the chips on Saturday.

According to Ms. Russell, proper vaccinations, including those for rabies, allow dogs to be licensed, which state law requires. “Not enough dogs are licensed,” she said, adding that clinics, such as the one held Saturday, give dog owners the opportunity to “do the right thing” while raising awareness about the shelter and the pets available for adoption.

Dolores Kelly of Wading River, who adopted her poodle mix, Courtney, about a month ago from the shelter, said she was “thrilled” with Saturday’s open house.

“I love this shelter,” Ms. Kelly said. “When I die I think I’m going to leave everything to the shelter instead of my kids.”

During the demonstration, Ms. Sardone said Long Island Search and Rescue will answer the call from any agency in need of its services, be it for a wilderness rescue or a natural disaster. The group, which relies solely upon donations of money, time and equipment from the community, is affiliated with the Brookhaven Technical Rescue Task Force, which is comprised of 10 fire departments across Long Island.

Along with assisting the authorities with supporting K-9 units, Long Island Search and Rescue offers survival training through the “Hug-a-Tree and Survive” program, which was started in California. The group, which meets every Thursday in Southampton, accepts new members to serve with or without a rescue dog, and provides all the necessary training to become certified. The training, Ms. Sardone said, is quite intense, with classes held on a weekly basis with at least a yearlong commitment to becoming certified. The courses, and the certifications, Ms. Sardone said, are all approved by National Search and Rescue and the New York Federation of Search and Rescue.

Ms. Sardone said the group is looking to expand into swift water rescue, avalanche and cave rescue.

Sophie Lowe, whose rescue dog, Hank, is a Labrador/pit bull mix, said the majority of the group’s work is finding lost hikers or hunters, but that the dogs have also been called in to find Alzheimer’s patients who have wandered off. The dogs are also capable of finding cadavers, Ms. Lowe said.

Unlike Tow, who hunts on a “trail scent,” Ms. Lowe said Hank is an “air scent” dog. When the dogs are called into action, Ms. Lowe said, they are brought to the “last point of contact” where they pick up a scent of the missing person and follow it from there until they detect the target. For hounds like Tow, Ms. Sardone said, “a misty rain is the best condition for tracking.” That’s because the mist, she explained, holds the scent to the ground. “Too much rain will wash it away,” she said, adding that Tow can pick up a trail in the snow as well. “As he gets closer to finding his target, his eyes get increasingly red.”

Ms. Lowe said search and rescue is like a game for the dogs and they are motivated with toys or food. “They’re like kids,” Ms. Lowe said. “They really enjoy it. For them it’s play.”

Ms. Sardone said Long Island Search and Rescue is always looking for new members who “love the outdoors, like helping people and enjoying learning new things.” She urged anyone interested in joining the group to visit its website, www.lik9sar@yahoo.com, for more information.

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