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Life and Death and Boundless Rewards

3/22/2022

La Plata Search and Rescue has a variety of teams that deploy according to need. One such team is Rae Randolph and her German Shepherd Oso, who is a certified cadaver detection dog. They work with Search and Rescue, Colorado Forensic Canines, and law enforcement officials to assist in investigations and recovery work. By Hannah Robertson. This story is sponsored by FASTSIGNS and ServiceMaster Restore

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If your idea of a fun weekend is to hike through unmarked wilderness, camping on exposed mountainsides, slogging through rain, and mud, and brush; all while following a dog that's following an invisible scent trail, well, you might have the makings of a canine handler for search and rescue. You're watching the Local News Network, brought to you by Fastsigns and ServiceMaster Restore. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

The rewards are boundless. They're just, if you really have a heart for it, that's what you need to do. You, there's no halfway when it comes to the things that really matter. "Somebody has gone missing, someone has been killed. "We need to find them." These are the things that really matter, the life and death stuff. And you can't just be a backyard halftime "I'm going to sort of do it half-hearted" person with a dog that doesn't cut the mustard. It has to be a higher standard.

Randolph is a canine handler with La Plata Search and Rescue and Colorado Forensic Canines. Her dog, Oso, is a cadaver detection dog, certified through the National Association of Working Police and Detection Dogs or NAPWDA Oso's expertise is detection of human remains. Although he is also trained to assist in other types of investigations. Oso and Randolph have been working together with search and rescue for eight years. But for Oso, his training began as a puppy. As is the case with many other types of working dogs.

So there are certain breeds that are bred for this game. A lot of law enforcement and military use a malinois because of their drive is off the charts and they are smaller in stature than a German shepherd, but a lot still use German shepherds. Labs are also the breeding now for labrador. Especially black labs has become more structured and more defined for this type of a game. And it is in the genetic coding.

When Oso's litter was born, Randolph and the breeder immediately began familiarizing the puppies with some of the odors that a cadaver detection dog would encounter. Oso showed the most potential out of his litter mates. And so began his years of training. Even now, eight years later, Oso and other search and rescue dogs require regular training to maintain their skills. Since the nature of the job is such that Randolph and Oso never know when they'll be called upon for their services.

I'm a volunteer, but the standards that I have for myself and for my canine have to be as high as what law enforcement has. Our guys here in La Plata County, they're really good. Their dogs are excellent. And my dog, I've worked with them, I've worked my dog with them. Oso has to be at the same caliber. My training has to be at the same caliber. My logs that I keep have to be at the same caliber. My training as a person, I have to physically be able to keep up with them. And so it's not just a weekend, "I'm going to go out and play with my dog in the woods." This is something, a lifestyle that we live.

Working as a canine handler is not for everyone. While there's the excitement of a rescue, there's also the tragedy of a recovery. The job isn't a regular nine to five and training a dog is constant.

It's not the find, or it's not the case solved, or it's not, a lot of people think, "Well working a dog, it's so glamorous," or "You get all the attention," or whatever. No, there's vet bills and there's a lot of dog poop to pick up. It's not that. The most rewarding thing is that relationship that you have with these amazing animals. And that to me is the best. And because it's few and far between that you're going to be the one to have the find. We have a thing on both teams that I'm part of, is that if there is a find, it's a team effort. No one person gets the glory.

Oso and Randolph are never quite sure where they'll be called to next, but they're always working, always training, always ready for what comes next. To learn more about La Plata Search and Rescue, visit laplatasar.org. To earn more about Colorado Forensic Canines, visit findthelost.org. Thanks for watching this edition of the Local News Network. I'm Wendy Graham Settle.

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