WOOF comes to the rescue | SierraSun.com

WOOF comes to the rescue

Photo by Court Leve/Sun News ServiceLotten Fahraeuf of Truckee trains with her Belgian Malinois, a search dog for WOOF.

Man’s savior, and for centuries, loyal companion, is the attentive, hardworking and ever faithful canine. For those lost in the wild or trapped underneath rubble or snow, specially trained rescue dogs are invaluable for search efforts.

Wilderness Finders Search Dog Teams, or WOOF, is a regional agency that responds to calls where a search dog has been deemed necessary by the county search and rescue team. For Northern California and Nevada, WOOF helps to locate lost hikers, skiers and others in distress.

Lynn and Bill Macaulay of Sparks, Nev., are handlers of a Labrador retriever named Geiger and members of WOOF. According to Lynn Macaulay, the key to training a dog for search and rescue is to develop its toy drive.

“You don’t work on obedience, you work on a drive,” Lynn Macaulay explained. For Geiger, tennis balls do the trick.

“When he’s out there searching for someone, he’s looking for tennis balls,” Lynn Macaulay said. “He knows that when he gets me to a person, I’ll give him a tennis ball.”

When a puppy is 10 weeks old the training usually begins. The process of desensitizing the puppy to loud noises, lots of people and varying natural elements initiates the potential search dog to a variety of situations.

Lotten Fahraeuf, 12-year search dog handler, described that working with her dog, a Belgian Malinois, to help find people, and the training involved, combines both of her loves of the outdoors and animals. Fahraeuf’s first dog took two years to train, she said. But handlers explain that each dog is different, and so is the method of training.

“It takes patience,” Fahraeuf, a Truckee resident, said.

She said that training her dog to detect people underwater was the most challenging. The signals dogs use to alert their handlers require close attention to detect. Fahraeuf’s dog will try to bite the side of the boat or bite the water where a person may be located.

Fahraeuf and the Macaulays, along with a few other handlers in the area, get together weekly for workouts. About once a month the whole WOOF unit will train together and take care of any certifications that may be needed.

There are several different disciplines for dogs and their handlers to become certified in, Lynn Macaulay said. Area or wilderness, which is a basic lost person certification; subsurface, such as avalanche or water where the victim is out of sight; human remains detection; and disaster searching, such as the Oklahoma City or World Trade Center bombings.

There are also drug, bomb and tracking dogs, where scent is used to find someone or something.

But the local members of WOOF are primarily trained in area, subsurface and cadaver disciplines. The unit will respond to calls as many as seven hours away. The handlers pay for all of their gas and expenses. When funds are raised by WOOF, the money goes straight to special and necessary equipment like snowshoes and lightweight backpacks.

Despite the long hours training their dogs, being out in the field and cost of being a part of search and rescue efforts, the handlers have no complaints.

“It’s a fit for me,” Fahraeuf said. “I love the outdoors and I love dogs.”

WOOF, Wilderness Finders Search Dog Teams, is an organization participating in the Truckee Tahoe Community Foundation’s Gifts for Good program. Look in your local paper for a cut-out to mail in with your donation to P.O. Box 366, Truckee, CA 96160. Also, you can visit local businesses and pick up an envelope to include a contribution or phone it in to the foundation at 587-1776.

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