‘Fill the Boot’ today for Thomasville Rescue Squad

Squad wants to increase number of K-9s
Jun. 14, 2013 @ 12:36 PM

Thomasville Rescue Squad's K-9 unit often goes unnoticed until an emergency. When a person goes missing, either on land or in the water, these trained animals quickly emerge as a vital recovery tool for the community, using their keen sense of smell to help resolve sometimes desperate situations.

Many K-9 handlers spend large sums of money out of their own pockets to provide this valuable service to distraught families looking for answers.

On Saturday, TRS hopes the community will help its effort to expand the K-9 unit and bring more of these life-saving animals to the Chair City. TRS  will hold its "Fill the Boot" fundraiser at the corner of Holly Hill Road and Randolph Street from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Members of the rescue squad will be holding empty boots and accepting any donations people can give.

"We are a 100 percent volunteer group," said James Whiteheart, the TRS K-9 unit leader. "Being 100 percent volunteer, we pay for a majority of everything out of pocket. We operate solely on grants and donations."

TRS currently has four rescue dogs following the untimely death of K-9 Carver, a border collie who died last month after being attacked by two pit bulls in his handler's yard. Carver's handler was left with expensive medical bills and the "Fill the Boot" campaign hopes to alleviate some of those costs. TRS also seeks to expand its K-9 unit to a dozen dogs within the year, but the expansion requires funding.

Every K-9 requires a SAR (search and rescue) pack and extensive training and certification. TRS spends approximately $1,000 for each SAR pack, not counting the extensive list of state-mandated items in the pack. Whiteheart hopes the fundraiser will help TRS assist its volunteer handlers to pay for such a valuable service to the community.   

"I think we're all pretty excited about expanding our unit and having a wide capability," Whiteheart said. "Primarily what we're looking for is any donation we can get to offset some of the costs we have throughout the year as far as training, equipment, equipment replacement, or reimbursement for members who travel out of state for any type of certifications or seminars."

Dogs need nearly two years of training before they are ready to work in the field. Handlers train an average of 15 hours per week with their K-9s to prepare for search and rescue. Roxye Marshall, a TRS handler, and her K-9 Mandy, helped locate the body of a woman involved in a boating accident on High Rock Lake last month. Mandy also was called to Jordan Lake earlier this year to help find a man who drowned.

"We bring to this unit many different abilities and experience," said Marshall. "The dogs are able to give us a scent picture that nothing else can. If you take that along with other information you may get in a search, all of a sudden you have criteria that's establishing a high probability. When we look at an emergency in the community, it can have many different faces."

K9s also cut down critical search time when a person goes missing. Whiteheart said a K-9 and his handler can cover the same amount of ground as a team of searchers in a fraction of the time.

"If another agency goes, they can take up to two hours to get enough people there and get organized," Whiteheart said. "if we can get the dog there within an adequate amount of time, before they get a lot of searchers in the field, we can put the dog in and cut the search time down to 30 minutes. The dog is going to follow a path of where the person walked whereas a group will search from box-to-box in a grid. The dog can follow that scent and will notice a lot of things other people may not."

An average of five calls come in to TRS every month requiring either a search and rescue or cadaver and live find K9. TRS handlers also are part of the N.C. Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 5 that serves Davidson County and other surrounding communities. Search and rescue K-9s, like their counterparts on the police force, require national certification before becoming operational in the field.


Staff Writer Eliot Duke can be reached at 888-3578, or duke@tvilletimes.com.