Four young teenaged boys were gone for 48 hours after announcing they were going to the well-known cave near their neighborhood. Not the usual cave, it was a series of washed out separate chambers that led down a steep hillside. Everyone knew about it and kids often went exploring there. JoJo a Petite Basset Griffon Vendeen (PBGV) had the assignment to check out the highway a quarter mile away from the cave. Searchers had been all through the cave and the valley below the day before. Search Management was suspicious the youths had abandoned their plan of searching the cave and instead headed down the road to a nearby mobile home park with many empty vacationer's homes. They thought they may have found an inviting trailer full of beer and were sleeping it off.
We hiked down to the highway and I gave JoJo a sniff of scent belonging to Mathew, an article of clothing his mother had provided. We checked both directions on the highway, but she was only interested in going back up the path to the top of the caves. There, we found the entire neighborhood nervously standing around. JoJo, ever the social butterfly, went from group to group wagging her tail, as if to say "Hi! Aren't I cute?" A PBGV looks like a cross between a basset hound and Benji but they are a serious hound when it is time to follow a trail despite their humorous appearance. She got to one group of three people and pitched an absolute fit. This was more than her friendly greeting. I asked, "Are any of you related to Mathew?" It was his mother standing there. Scent within a family is very similar and she undoubtedly had some of her son's scent on her clothing. JoJo knew it! We walked down the hill to get away from all the spectators. JoJo led me to the lowest entrance to the caves. She was very interested and really wanted to enter. However, that was not allowed as only experienced caver were permitted. I returned to base camp and reported the only interest the dog found was the cave. JoJo thought they were still inside. Later in the afternoon, Search Management called for JoJo again. They explained they were sure the kids weren't in there, cavers and mountain rescue had covered it thoroughly, but the press was here and nothing was happening so they gave us another assignment.
A hat identified as belonging to one of the boys had been found in an entrance at the top of the cave series. I was to go where it was found, scent my dog and see what happened. At least it would look like something was being done. She smelled the hat and led me in and out of cave entrances working her way down the hillside. At one point the boulders were so big I had to turn her loose to continue our progress. She eventually stood on a pile of rocks barking and barking. I thought she was frustrated. I forgot just the week before, she had been introduced to a Bark Box, used for training disaster dogs. When they can't get at the person hidden inside the box, the dog learns to bark and the door flies open so they get their reward. Just then, two more cavers arrived. Search management let them go in even though they were sure the kids weren't there. They had taken off work early and management didn't want to discourage their eagerness to help. These were little wiry guys, about the size of a young teenager evidently. One climbed up on a big bolder inside a chamber, slid down the other side and found a tiny hole leading back into an unexplored section. There were the boys! They couldn't find their way out in the dark and had wisely sat down to wait. When they came out the youngsters said they could hear police radios, helicopters and people calling for them but no one could hear their group call for help. "Oh yes," one remembered, "We kept hearing a dog barking and couldn't figure that out." Pre 9/11 search and rescue dogs were not well known. It was JoJo telling me, "I smell them, but I can't get to them," just like a disaster dog should do.
Search Dog Resources Search Dog Resources is an organization that supplies SAR dogs, search dogs, to law enforcement and other public service agencies in California at no cost. These highly trained dog/handler teams certify to standards that meet or exceed both Cal EMA guidelines for search and rescue and also NIMS guidelines.
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