The last eight years have been a walk in the park for Sue Jones and her dog Sugar; and like most pet owners, they have done many things together, and Friday afternoon, they added one more activity to their list.
"She has not been in a helicopter before, so this is new for us as a team," Jones said.
Jones and Sugar are training to be certified as a "track and trailing" team to help authorities locate lost people. All team members are volunteers and pay most of the training and equipment expenses out of their own pockets. There are several tests for the owner and the pet before they are certified, including a successful search of a 40-acre area in an hour-and-a-half or less. According to certified dog handler Whitney Hartz, the orientation flights determine if a team could be transported in a helicopter to remote areas.
"If there's a missing child in another county or a missing person, then we could be called-in and land with the helicopter and be there in a short amount of time compared to driving," Hartz explained.
Hartz and her dog, Amaretto, have been on several searches together. Unlike the search dogs we normally picture in our minds, such as a bloodhound, "air scent" dogs are called in when there is no trail, only an area to search. Hartz said it takes a special dog to be a "track and trailing" canine.
"You basically have to test the dogs, see whether or not they have the personality for it," Hartz said. "It's basically like playing a game of hide-and-seek."
It takes a special dog to be able to ride in a helicopter also.
"The biggest thing is just making sure they're comfortable riding in it," Alachua County Sheriff Deputy Richard Bray said. "Some dogs may have an issue with the noise or the unusual environment, but so far, we really haven't had a problem."
And Sugar did not have a problem either. Jones said she did great:
"Getting her out and not stepping on all that real expensive equipment is kind of tricky, but other than that, she did fine."
By Ted Latiak, WCJB TV20 News.
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