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From Stray to Hero: A Search and Rescue Dog Story | Hill's Pet

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Man in winter coat and blue jeans kneels next to German Shephered.

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a search and rescue dog? Tick, a German shepherd from Fort Wayne, Indiana, works in a canine search and rescue group called Indiana Search and Response Team.

A Fateful Meeting

Tick's journey started when he was found by Fort Wayne police officer Jason Fuhrman at the edge of the city. When he found Tick, the German shepherd was eating out of a tossed aside fast food bag.

Fuhrman says, "I got out of my car and made some clicking noises with my mouth, and here came this dog running at me. I began to wonder if I should jump back in my car, but the body language told me he was not a threat. Instead, this dog came over to me, turned around, and sat on my foot. He then began leaning backwards into me so I would pet him."

Mr. Fuhrman is no stranger to dogs. In 1997, he began training his first search and rescue dog. The dog retired and later passed away. "When I stopped training I eventually began getting stressed out, short tempered and just felt like I was missing something." And then, Tick came into his life.

Officer with German shepherd as older man and woman pets the dogBefore bringing him to the shelter, Fuhrman did a few small tests with him, using the dog treats he kept in his car. "I made sure to put a note on the information sheet that if he was not chipped and no one came to claim him I was interested in adopting him." And no one did claim the German shepherd, so Mr. Fuhrman picked him up and brought him home. "I began training with Tick and my stress level dropped dramatically. I found what the missing part of me was, and it was a change I will hopefully never go through again." On December 7, 2013, Tick received his certification from the State of Indiana Department of Homeland Security as an air scent K-9 in live find.

Mostly black German shepherd in rescue vest poses for picture

Tick Takes the Call

March 22, 2015 was like any normal day for Mr. Fuhrman. Just as he was heading into work, he received a call from one of the K-9 officers to inform him that there was an 81-year-old man, who suffered from Alzheimer's and dementia, who was missing since around 6:30 pm. That call came in at 9:45 pm. The man was wearing only a thermal shirt and pajama pants, and the temperature outside was 33 degrees at the time. After using the police department's bloodhound team, they still needed more help, and wondered if Tick, and anyone else from Indiana Search and Response Team could assist.

Fuhrman picked up Tick for duty and another bloodhound from the team arrived with his owner. The bloodhound started first working off the scent given to him from a robe. "We later found out the subject's son had also worn [the robe] ... We ended up tracking the son." Fuhrman said.

"We went to the area where the police department's bloodhound lost the trail and ran into firefighters and even a DNR Officer who was riding on a four-wheeler. They advised they checked the area by eyesight and using a thermal imager. There was also a helicopter flying overhead checking the area with a spotlight ... Most of this area was surrounded by large canals with steep edges that would have been hard for anyone to get up, especially a subject that had problems getting around. We checked the edge of the canal and then worked our way into the wind, back to where the officer said he lost the trail. At approximately 1:15 am, Tick gave out a single bark. He is taught to stay with the victim and constantly bark until I arrive. I was only a short distance away and when I got to the victim he was lying on his side on the bank of a shallow ravine with his head down toward the water. He was holding Tick away from his face. Tick likes to lick the face a lot on people who don't respond to him."

The 81-year-old man was transported to the hospital and returned home a couple days later. His wife asked him if he remembered anything.

He remembered a dog licking his face.

Contributor Bio

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila

Erin Ollila is a pet enthusiast who believes in the power of words and how a message can inform, and even transform its intended audience. Her writing can be found all over the internet and in print. Reach out to her on Twitter @ReinventingErin or learn more about her at http://erinollila.com.

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