- Associated Press - Sunday, May 10, 2015

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - The Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad now has another asset to use when called out for search and rescue missions. However, unlike resources such as locator beacons and aerial and water vehicles, the new asset isn’t above playing fetch and being pet on the head in her downtime.

Pace, an approximately 28-month-old Labrador retriever, completed the final step of becoming a certified search and rescue dog on April 26.

Carol Towne, Pace’s owner and handler, was a founding member of KVRS and has had two search and rescue dogs before Pace. Towne got Pace from a kennel in Maine - which specializes in search and rescue dogs - when she was about 8 weeks old, Towne said during a training session Sunday morning.

It takes about two years to train SAR dogs, Towne said.

“They were teasing me on the day of the certification,” Towne said. “They said, ‘Now you know, when you certified your last dog, we had a mission the next day,’ and we did, but we didn’t this time.

“We left town instead,” Towne added with a laugh.

Pace was the easiest of Towne’s three dogs to train as a SAR dog, she said.

“They have to have a high play drive, because you have to have some way of rewarding them,” Towne said. “That’s what we look for, and that retrieve drive, especially in a retriever or any of your retrieving breeds, it’s an important thing because that dog wants to come back to you. … (Pace) has been the easiest to train right out of the box at eight weeks. She’s been just spot-on. I couldn’t be happier with the kennel I got her from. … She just took to it naturally.”

KVRS dogs and their handlers have to pass three tests to become certified for SAR. According to KVRS K9 team captain Danelle Landis, the tests are:

- A search of a one-mile trail section, in the dark, for one volunteer hidden near the trail. The test must be done in an hour or less, and the dog is required to work off-leash and to return and signal the handler after finding the subject. Towne and Pace passed that test in 2014.

“She’s excellent at that, she loves trails,” Towne said.

- The second test assesses obedience and temperament skills that a SAR dog needs, such as not moving from a lying down position while the handler is out of sight for five minutes and walking on unstable surfaces at the handler’s direction. Towne and Pace also completed that test in 2014.

“That was our hard (test), because being named Pace, she can’t sit still,” Towne said. “She thinks that that means, ‘I have to move all the time.’”

- The third test requires the dog and handler to use planning, search strategy and navigation skills to find one volunteer person hiding in minimum 160-acre area in a maximum time of six hours. Towne and Pace found the subject in less than two hours on April 26.

KVRS dogs are not ready for missions until they pass all three tests, Towne added.

“We do them in a sequence, so by the time you get to the 160-acre test you pretty well know what your dog will do,” Towne said.

There are now two certified SAR dogs on the KVRS K9 team, with several others going through training.

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Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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