|Hernandez holds on as Miletonde subdues a tricky suspect.
Story by Spc. Suzanne Carter
AUSTIN, Texas - "We wouldn't put a dog in a tree in a search event," said Casey E. England of Travis County Search and Rescue. "But we might have a reason for why we would need to put a dog in a harness and raise him up a cliff face."
England and Megan E. Kazda, also of Travis County Search and Rescue, prepared AJ, a Labrador mix, for a rappelling demonstration as part of the search and rescue dog event at the 2010 American Heroes Celebration at Camp Mabry in Austin. The exhibitions, held April 17, showcased the discipline and skills of search and rescue and police dogs.
"We all practice rope safety and rappelling," AJ's handler Sean D. Glynn said about his search team. "You also want to get the dogs used to being rappelled down.
"This is part of the initial training where you're just getting them used to being comfortable suspended and moving in a vertical environment," Glynn continued. "I'm going to give him some pieces of bread, and he's going to associate this happy feeling.
"Some dogs, they might scramble at first," Glynn said, while content AJ dangled in his harness from the tree above. "As soon as they get used to being up there, they're just suspended and hanging out."
"It's cool because he could save me," said Sophie Beilinton, 9, as she reached out to pet the dog after his safe return to the ground.
Despite a light rain earlier that day, dogs from Austin Police Department Search and Rescue and Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit also demonstrated their special skills.
Matthew W. McDermott, a volunteer with APD Search and Rescue through K-9 Search, began the demonstrations with a word about safety.
"We get out there and we talk to the kids about what to do if they get lost, how to use their heads," he said. "The main thing you want them to know is to stay in one place. Doesn't matter if they're in the woods or if they're in the mall. ... Grab on to something, like a garbage can."
McDermott performed an evidence demonstration with his 11-year old Australian Shepherd mix, Willa. Sniffing out a glove hidden in a row of boxes, Willa lay down when she caught the scent.
"This is her trained alert," McDermott said as he described techniques Willa uses to let him know she's found her target.
Travis County Sheriff's K-9 Unit showcased their dogs' discipline and focus. Deputy Mike Stanley walked his German Shepherd, Tex, across the parade field. Tex did not hesitate or take his attention off his handler.
German Shepherd Ryker and Deputy Jo A. Carson apprehended "unsavory character," Stanley, in a bite suit. Deputy Gilbert A. Hernandez and Meliton, another German Shepherd, pulled a stubborn suspect from his vehicle in a demonstration new to the celebration.
Though police dogs move fast, they do not move with the intent to injure. Ryker and Meliton followed their training and released their suspects when they stopped resisting.
"We spend about 10 hours a day training new dogs," Hernandez said. "Of course it's not 10 hours straight, but we start with obedience and work up from there."
Hernandez said, though Travis County owns them, "essentially, they are our dogs. We spend 10 hours a day in the car while we're working, and then they go home with us. ... It's a 24-hour-a-day job pretty much."
The amount of time these K-9 handlers spend with their dogs creates an intense bond. McDermott pointed this out when he compared search and rescue dogs to police dogs.
"Ours are friendly, lick-your-face dogs," he said. "Theirs aren't. Theirs are trained for protection. They'll take a bullet for their officer if they have to."
While families love seeing the dogs in action, McDermott said the celebration gives search and rescue teams an opportunity to inform people about the dogs, their training and their jobs.
"We love being out here," he said. "The thing I like about it the most is the recognition we get as a team. I'm often amazed at how many folks don't know that Austin even has a search and rescue team."