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Catching Up with Cassidy the Search and Rescue Dog

By Lynn Stacy-Smith

If you have followed the Canine Caviar Facebook page for a while you might recall stories about the Gila County Mounted Posse and their Search and Rescue dog Cassidy. Cassidy was born and trained in Czechoslovakia and then donated approximately a year ago to the Gila County Mounted Posse in Arizona by an anonymous donor. Canine Caviar has pledged to feed Cassidy Canine Caviar holistic dog food for life to assist in this volunteer group’s heroic efforts to search for missing people in Arizona.

The last nine months haCassie on Shoulderve been busy for Cassidy and her handler Wyken. He spoke to us about Cassidy and their experiences over the last year. Above all else his love for “Cassie” came through in his voice, as well as his pride in her abilities. Here at Canine Caviar we understand that kind of love and bond with the canine species very well.

Originally trained for police work, Cassidy arrived with a passport and her pedigree and not a word of English. Her coat was bristly like a soft wire brush and she had been raised in a kennel, not accustomed to things that our own dogs encounter every day. Wyken explained that her first days in his home were a “big culture shock” to Cassidy, as she learned about housebreaking, slick floors and televisions. Fortunately it did not take long for Wyken and Cassidy to bond. He explained that he looked into her eyes and “she had me.” He continued, “There is just a kindness in her eyes and she had me in a couple seconds.”IMG_8476 - search and rescue dog

When Canine Caviar pledged to provide food to Cassidy for life, her handler Wyken and his wife already knew about our holistic dog food. Now that Cassidy eats Canine Caviar, the good dog food has fixed her bristly coat issues and she now feels soft and silky and shines like black silk.  She also has plenty of the nutrients that she needs to help her power through her training and SAR calls.

Fast forward to August 2013 and Cassidy and Wyken have figured a lot out together. He has learned her Czech commands and she has learned her job as Search and Rescue (SAR) dog, as well as how to navigate the family home.

At home, Cassidy has an outdoor kennel at her disposal, although Wyken laughed as he mentioned that she had been in the kennel approximately three times over the last nine months. She had been socialized around other dogs before arriving in Arizona and got along with his other dogs right away. She also warmed quickly to his wife and daughter. When Wyken’s wife comes home from work Cassidy insists on getting petted by her and sniffing her pant legs before Cassidy begins her evening training sessions. Cassidy plays with her handler’s daughter, sits on her and acts like a silly puppy.

Winter Time Catch - search and rescue dog

Despite her ability to be a silly young dog around the house, Cassidy is a serious working dog when she is training or working. The bond between Cassidy and Wyken is as important when they are working as it is in the home.

Like most dogs who have jobs, Cassidy works for rewards. Her reward is her jute, a tightly wound piece of burlap that she is allowed to play with for a short time after performing the requested task. Unlike obedience classes and some canine activities that use food as a reward, the jute is essential because only Wyken has control of the reward. This means that nobody else can coax her away from her work; according to Wyken she lives to get the jute.IMG_4783 - search and rescue dog

Using Czech words is also critical in ensuring that nobody else can command Cassidy. Using other languages is common when training dogs who perform tasks like SAR or police work. Fortunately Cassidy came to the United States already knowing Czech.

In addition to being a SAR dog, which means that Cassidy searches for missing people who are believed to be alive, Cassidy is also trained as a Human Remains Detection (HRD) dog. Not all dogs are able to perform both jobs but Cassidy is able to perform both types of searches. Her handler explained that if Cassidy is sent on a search for a missing person believed to be alive that she is also able to pick up on the scent of the deceased person instead. “It is amazing how smart the dogs are, “ he said, “It is all about communicating what is needed and the dogs are capable of almost anything.”

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The Gila County Mounted Posse is equipped to perform search and rescue operations on horseback, although Cassidy is not yet joining in on searches in which her handlers are riding horses. SAR and HRD work is exhausting for dogs. Ten minutes of searching in high drive searching mode, with stress levels high and Cassidy in constant motion as she searches for scent, equals five miles of running for humans. If you add in the speed and duration of the horses, searching with a mounted handler could be exhausting for Cassidy in just a short time.

Her handler does have a state of the art wireless containment system that he can eventually use with Cassidy if they do perform searches with him on horseback. It works similar to an invisible fence that you might find in a suburban yard, with a collar that emits sounds to Cassidy if she gets close to the boundary that he can set for her. He can see her movement on a handheld monitor and will be able to see if she stops searching, which will indicate that she has found something. IMG_5198- search and rescue dog

Cassidy is trained to lie down quickly and quietly when she is working and finds a missing or deceased person in order to reduce a potentially scary situation for the missing person. This is because a person who is scared and lost may be fearful of a large black dog suddenly coming across them, despite her SAR vest. Unlike movies in which you sometimes see dogs licking, barking or jumping in joy to find a missing person, those actions could be terrifying to the missing person and could even cause them to try to protect themselves against Cassidy. Cassidy’s down position is safest and least stressful for both Cassidy and the missing person.

 

Although HRD work does not have the same happy ending as a successful SAR call it does provide important closure to the families of the deceased person. Her handler believes that as word continues to spread about Cassidy’s amazing nose and ability to find people that she will be utilized often. He also has plans to train with Cassidy in underwater recovery in which dogs on boats can detect the scents that rise to the top of water to show underwater rescue and recovery teams where to search.

Overall her handler reflects that this has “been a very gratifying experience.” Training will continue daily throughout Cassidy’s life, and currently her handler is working on bringing a second person on-board.  Watch for more updates on Cassidy on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cassidy-Search-Rescue-Dog.