SANDOVAL COUNTY, N.M. (KRQE) – The newest members of Sandoval County’s search and rescue team will be out training with their handlers.
It’s the first time the county has ever had search and rescue dogs.
Over 3,700 square miles make up Sandoval County. However, officials say only 19 percent of that is actual county land, the rest is tribal, federal, and forest land which makes it difficult to find anyone who has gone missing in the area.
Now with the dogs as a part of the team, they are hoping to increase the chance of finding people easier and quicker.
Last week, during training, 4-year-old German Shepherd KT sprinted around the backyard of county fire station in search of her victim.
In under two minutes, she already pointed her nose and barking at the firefighter pretending to be lost.
Her handler, Shannon Farrell, rewarded KT’s heroic efforts.
“The reward for them is a tug or a ball. This is what they work for. This is why they do what they do. It’s fun and they want to go do it then and find people,” said Shannon.
A game of tug of war is the reward for KT, and her counterpart, 5-year-old dutch shepherd Quattro.
They’re the first ever search and rescue dogs to be part of the Rio Grande Basin Heavy Technical Rescue Team. They’re a fairly new organization made up of Rio Rancho, Sandoval County and Corrales firefighters.
The dogs are already improving search efforts. They were dispatched to a lost hiker in Jemez Mountains late last year.
“The idea is that the dogs can cover a lot large area and a lot faster more efficient. Our dogs range anywhere from 100 to 500 yards out in front of us, side to side. That’s a much larger area as dozen people walking together trying to cover an area in a grid search,” said David Farrell.
Their primary goals are finding human remains or a missing person.
Sandoval County Deputy Fire Chief Eric Masterson says most of the team’s calls involve search and rescues in the Sandias or Jemez mountains. The other portion is water-related emergencies along the Bosque.
Masterson says the dog’s work is more crucial than ever.
“The call volume has gone up for the RGBHTRT. It started out slowly but last year we went to approximately 30 and 40 calls,” said Masterson.
Masterson expects the numbers to go up this year as more and more people use the recreational facilities in those areas.
That means more daily training and annual certifications for the dogs, but all of that that comes at a price.
So far, everything has been paid for by the husband-wife duo.
“It’s all been out of our pockets. I’m a volunteer for the county and for the team so I put my time and all my money into my dog and his training equipment and certifications. We’ve looked for grants. We’ve put out some things that sort of thing,” said Farrell.
A Go Fund Me page has been set up in hopes of getting help from the community until more funding comes in from the county.
As for their third dog JJ, he’s only 11 months old right now. They’re hoping to use those funds to train him so he can relieve KT or Quattro when they retire.
The next step for the search and rescue team is getting the dogs into collapsed building searches training.
For a link to the Go Fund Me page, click here.