What started as a way for Terri White to find her kids when they wouldn’t answer turned into launching a group that volunteers to find missing people.
“My boys gave me my first German Shepherd for Mothers Day in 2009 and one day, they wouldn't answer me. So I said, 'If you don't start answering me, I'm going to teach her to come and find you,'” said White, who resides in Canistota. “My husband, (Wayne), is a volunteer fireman, and he said, ‘If you're going to teach her to find them, you're going to teach her to find anyone.’”
In July, 2013 White created the Prairie Dogs Search & Rescue team.
White, who had been certified with her first dog Mya since 2011, said there weren’t any other rescue dog handlers/trainers in the area, which led to her starting her own program in 2013.
White said the team now includes 14 dogs with 12 handlers with their members coming from Plankinton, Mitchell, Canistota, Flandreau, Sioux City, Canton, Brandon Valley and Sioux Falls.
“We train our personal dogs to find missing people,” she said.
White said they train every Sunday, weather permitting. And they try to go to seminars whenever possible.
The training and traveling is paid for through fundraising.
On Sunday, White and the Prairie Dogs Search & Rescue team were spending their day training at the Kiwanis Woodlot Park in Mitchell with three individuals hiding along the trails waiting to be found by the dogs.
Meagan Hageman, of Sioux City, said she continues to see her 1-year-old dog, Odessa, improve week after week.
“She's started off with just simple puppy runs. We're starting to get into her some harder trails. We're challenging her a little bit more than she has been previously,” Hageman said of Odessa, who’s been training for about six months. “She's done a lot of learning and growing both physically and with her training.”
The training varies on the types of dogs and what their strengths are in searching.
“We have area dogs which work off lead (leash), and they will use the air currents to find the person. Then we have trailing dogs that will actually put their nose to the ground and they're on leash, and then they will follow in the footsteps of the hider,” White said.
Hageman said with Odessa being a black and tan bluetick hound, she thought search and rescue would be a good fit for both her and the dog.
“I've had scent hounds before. I know they don't do well with being bored. So I wanted to give her something to do and I thought Search and Rescue would be something that I was interested in as well,” she said. “I've got a medical background, so it just kind of seemed natural for the two of us to do something along those lines.”
Prairie Dogs Search & Rescue has taken part in several searches to help law enforcement including in May 2018 when a Worthing woman was killed in a hit-and-run.
According to White, it takes approximately two years for dogs to become certified with a variety of organizations they can become certified through.
Types of search and rescue dogs include tracking and trailing, in which the dog will work their nose to the ground to follow a trail of human scent, with tracking dogs needing a “last seen” starting point, an article with the person’s scent and uncontaminated trail while on a leash.
Another is an area search, of which they will work an area off leash and don’t require a trail to follow.
There is also a human remains detection certification, or more commonly known as cadaver dogs, in which dogs detect the smell of human remains.