- Associated Press - Sunday, June 26, 2016

YANKTON, S.D. (AP) - When Amanda Jackson’s co-worker performs well, she rubs his head and feeds him a special treat.

Jackson works with her K9 (canine) partner, “Chief,” as members of the Yankton County Search and Rescue Association. Chief holds special training as a cadaver dog, searching for deceased persons in a variety of settings.

In addition, the Labrador holds distinction as Yankton County’s first cadaver dog, the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan (http://bit.ly/28YGFe1 ) reported.

“I’ve been with Yankton County Search and Rescue for almost four years, and Chief has been in training with me for a year,” Jackson said. “He’s my personal dog. I got him from a breeder in Minnesota and sought him out because he has been bred for his hunting line and drive. He has stamina and understands the scents.”

Earlier this month, Jackson and Chief became certified in human remains detection. They received their certification at a North American Police Work Dog Association workshop in Brookings. The workshop was hosted by Brookings County K9 Search and Rescue.

“Chief and I are certified together,” Jackson said. “He’s a working pet, and we’re a team. I can go on search-and-rescue assignments without him, but he can’t go without me.”

Cadaver dogs must hold the ability to follow human scent despite sometimes difficult obstacles, Jackson said.

“They’re tested for finding bodies in rubble piles, fallen buildings and vehicles and in water,” she said. “They’re used for a number of situations, such as suspected murders, accidents and any missing-person or criminal case. Their work can be treated as evidence.”

Jackson and Chief literally speak the same language - actually, multiple languages.

“I give Chief commands in German, Russian and English,” she said. “I also switch up the languages, and I use words that aren’t normally heard in everyday conversation.”

The certification process took Jackson and Chief to the next level. Unlike some first responders who take a set of scheduled classes for their certification test, Jackson said she was responsible for finding the information and sources in order to learn the required information.

In that regard, she found a helping hand from other search-and-rescue units, in particular the Brookings County unit. She also turned to publications, online information and other sources. She also set up simulated sites - ranging from land and sand to junkyards and vehicles - in training Chief to find the missing party.

“We work with any scent that’s detectable,” she said. “We look for accelerant, human remains and even wildlife.”

Before applying for the HRD certification test, teams need to provide proof of coursework and training in areas such as crime scene preservation, hazardous materials awareness and blood-borne pathogens.

The time arrived when Jackson believed she and Chief were ready for the test. They attended the recent NAPWDA workshop in Brookings, where they were subjected to six environments.

The trainer-dog teams were tested by two master trainers: Robert Noziska, a senior border patrol agent and active K9 handler for the United States Border Patrol; and Neil Raymond, a retired Massachusetts state policeman and K9 handler with nearly three decades of service.

“We had the workshops, and at the end we had the certification tests,” Jackson said. “We took the dogs into each environment, and it was just the handler, the dog and the unbiased master trainer.”

Jackson and Chief received certification, but she emphasized it marks only the beginning. Certification shows achievement of baseline standards and remains good for one year. The trainer and dog must continue their training and maintain certification on an annual basis.

The approach remains as unique as each team, Jackson said. “Each handler works with the dog in a different way,” she said.

The bond between Jackson and Chief became readily apparent. The dog responded to her commands, but he also showed a playful mood with the rest of her family in the room - and even with the Press & Dakotan reporter conducting the interview.

“I understand what the dog wants, and he understands me,” Jackson said. “He’s a great dog and really easy to work with.”

But make no mistake about it - it’s all business when the situation arises.

Chief has become a valuable addition to local response efforts, said Bryant Jackson, Amanda’s husband and YCSRA president. Bryant also serves as Yankton County deputy emergency manager.

“This is a new resource available to our area. Before, this resource was requested from hours away. We now have that resource available to us locally,” Bryant said.

“The pair is available to the county and surrounding area emergency management, law enforcement, and first responders, as is all of Yankton County Search and Rescue.”

Yankton County can now begin immediate use of its own dog during a call rather than wait for a dog to arrive from another unit, Amanda said.

“This will cut down our timeline (to start a response) by two hours at a minimum,” she said. “And if another dog arrives on the scene, we can use a second dog to confirm a finding.”

Chief provides a valuable complement, not replacement, for the current use of divers and Global Positioning Systems (GPS), Amanda said.

“The cadaver dog is one of the tools that we have in our tool box. He helps narrow down the area that we’re searching and shortens the amount of time that we’re spending,” she said.

“You may be looking at a large number of square miles of land and water,” she said. “You could reduce the amount of land you are searching from a quarter-mile in area to a square of 300 by 300 feet. Or you may start with a four-mile stretch of river and reduce it to a quarter-mile of shoreline.”

The sharper focus can help tremendously in searching for someone, Amanda said. “It’s terribly important, especially when you have limited manpower and hours,” she said.

Chief can provide a valuable asset when weather conditions are poor or a body of water becomes dark and murky, Bryant said.

“I’m super excited for the area to have a cadaver dog, especially when we’re working in areas that have little to no visibility,” he said.

The dog can also help in finding evidence, Bryant said. In the case of recovery, it can bring much faster closure for the family and friends, first responders and all others involved in the search, he added.

K-9 dogs have been used since the 1970s, but the cadaver dogs represent a more recent and focused usage of the canines, Bryant said. Cadaver dogs are used by a variety of law enforcement agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the South Dakota Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) and even the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), he said.

Now, Yankton County has joined the list.

“We’ve been trying to get a cadaver dog for years,” Bryant said. “We can be deployed to practically anywhere. We get calls to different states. We’re non-jurisdictional and don’t follow boundaries.”

As the newest team member, Chief is ready for action at any moment, Bryant said.

“We’re one team, one fight,” Bryant said. “We go wherever we’re needed.”

Follow @RDockendorf on Twitter.

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Information from: Yankton Press and Dakotan, http://www.yankton.net/

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