Well, I’ve just received another letter written to the reporter of that bizarre article written by Danny Adler. It comes from Lt. Dan Donadio, who was down at Ground Zero, day and night, for 9 long months. Of course, Scott was down at Ground Zero for a little over a day, but amazing how he has spun that into an epic.
I have learned that the true heroes out there are not easily found. They do not do this job for the fanfare. They do not have media agents working on getting them mentioned in endless news articles. They are not obsessed with gaining notoriety. In fact, they’d rather not be in the spotlight. Rather, they struggle and train and work hard because they can, because they know they can help a fellow human being. These folks are a gifted bunch, and we do depend on their spirit of giving . . . for that time when it may be our lives hanging in the balance.
Rick Slatten, of Duluth, wrote a quite telling post to his search and rescue eGroup about this issue. I’m providing it here as I believe it does a marvelous job of speaking to this issue and possibly helping others more readily discern the fiction from the non-fiction with respect to the world of search and rescue. Interestingly, you can check off every point except for #6, for Scott Shields. For #8, I’d add in the dressing up of the dog as well, as Scott has taken that to a new level.
Slatto’s Index of Suspicion for Evaluating SAR Canines & Handlers
My unit was called for mutual aid to a nearby jurisdiction over the weekend to look for a missing woodsman. After quietly finding the subject’s body, we slipped back to our home turf with little fanfare. What made me chuckle, however, was the glassy-eyed, awestruck look on some of the general staff in the CP at the “track record” of one of the canines present (not ours). I heard someone say, “that dog made 74 finds last year.”
So it is, with no small amount of jocularity (keeping in mind that in every bit of humor lies a nugget of truth), I offer to you Slatto’s Index of Suspicion for Evaluating SAR Canines & Handlers. The presence of one or more items on the list does NOT necessarily mean the canine team standing before you isn’t any good. However, the more items you see, the more you should be suspicious, and the more digging into the team’s background you should do. Here we go…
1. INCREDIBLE NUMBERS OF FINDS. If we added up the numbers of finds claimed by all the dog handlers in North America, the sum would be greater than all the people who have gone lost or missing in recorded history. Working a case where the subject was found while the dog was within a five-mile radius does NOT equate to a find for the dog! A good dog may go its entire career with no more than one or two true “finds.” Some good dogs NEVER get a true find. If the handler is claiming “hundreds of finds,” by the handler himself or the dog, ask for more data. Who? When? Where? How can I contact the responsible agency and confirm this?
2. THEY’RE A LEGEND IN THEIR OWN MIND. “My dog found Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart, Pocahontas, and the Unknown Soldier.” If the only source of information about the team’s capability is the team itself, beware. The handler should be able to give you contacts of official agencies with whom they have worked who will vouch for them. If they “promise” results, they’re lying. And if they spend more time talking to the media than talking to you or working their dog, fire them and find another team who knows what the primary mission is: Find the subject. Above all other things, the dog and handler have two responsibilities: The dog must detect the scent of the object you seek; and the handler must recognize when the dog is detecting it. Without those two, the fact that the dog can respond to hand signals, shoot a compass bearing, and make coffee all while humping your leg is irrelevant.
3. THEY CALL YOU FIRST. Cold sales calls from a canine team should be treated with the same suspicion as they would coming from a telephone solicitor or a man in a plaid sport coat standing on your front porch holding a briefcase. Newly formed teams may need to do some marketing. There is nothing wrong with that, but their style and manner should discretely communicate quiet competence and confidence, not sell used cars.
4. A “SECRET FORMULA” FOR TRAINING. A good handler should be able to explain, clearly and concisely, how they train, how OFTEN they train, why their training works, and how their training is in keeping with recognized best practices. They should also be able to prove that they DO train. If they claim a “secret” or “proprietary” method of training that they are not willing to share, run the other way.
5. A BIG BAG OF REASONS WHY THEIR DOG WON’T PERFORM. A team of four-wheelers on that distant bluff. A nearby team member is smoking a cigarette. There is no distilled water available for their dog to drink. The wind is from the west on a Tuesday. Beyond trying to optimize environmental conditions for their dog, if the handler makes myriad excuses why their dog doesn’t seem to know its ass from green paint, that’s a red flag.
6. FLAMBOYANT NAMES. The good dogs I have worked with had names like Lacey, Abe, Otter, and Amos. If the dog is named One-Eyed Sally, Three-Day-Drunk, or Slap-My-Ass-and-Call-It-Mayonnaise, your eyebrows should go up. (See Item 8, “Nanook of the North” below.) But then again, “The Legendary Molly” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as “The Legendary No-Neutered Sam,” does it?
7. ONE BIG OPERATION MAKES THEM AN EXPERT. There were dozens of dogs in New Orleans and at the World Trade Center. There were also some dogs and handlers who maybe shouldn’t have been there. There are also outstanding canine teams who have never been to a search of national prominence. Presence at a national disaster does NOT automatically convey capability through osmosis! If they hang their hat on the fact they were present at the Last Big Thing, find out how they got there, as well as what Little Things they’ve done that resulted in helping a subject. Then, refer to the other items on this list.
8. “NANOOK OF THE NORTH” APPEARANCE. The best handlers I have worked with were regular people. French Voyageur clothing, swashbuckler hats with pheasant feather plumes, and three feet of facial hair are not necessary to be a good handler (or coveralls and a vest that would look right at home on a Third World Dictator). Any handler is entitled to their own unique personal “pizzazz,” but the farther they stray from mainstream, the more you should wonder. Are they a capable team, or are they marketing an image? Are they looking for the subject, or media exposure? Looking like Gandalf from “Lord of the Rings” does not add to the effectiveness of the team.
I believe the web server for this list is located in western Canada. When I test-fired this on my dog handler partners, they figured we should be able to see the glow in the sky from here.
If you want to catch up on the history to this sordid tale, just get on over to my article on trading in on tragedy for fame
And, instead of writing me any comments, try sharing your opinions with the reporter, Danny Adler, who can be reached at 215-949-4205 or dadler@phillyBurbs.com. The paper needs to do a new story exposing all of the mistruths.