Dog sniffing and tracking through tall grass

Training the next generation of K9 super sleuths

Baker Tilly Wishes grant supports life-saving search and rescue efforts.

Baker Tilly Wishes grant supports life-saving search and rescue efforts

When a person goes missing, sometimes the only trail to follow is a scent. Tracking dogs are the best tool for the job, equipped with the ability to pick up scents over several miles and follow trails that are days old.  

When a community in West Virginia lacked proper search and rescue resources, a group of volunteers created a solution — K9 Search & Rescue Services of West Virginia. For Malinda Hayes, administrative team member in our Charleston, West Virginia office, supporting the organization’s work also supports her daughter Shannon. A paramedic and volunteer firefighter, Shannon is working with the search and rescue not-for-profit to train Raider, her 1-year-old bloodhound.  

To be a member of the not-for-profit organization, both the volunteers and dogs must be fully certified and available 24/7 to coordinate with emergency response agencies. The all-volunteer group includes 15 volunteers and 10 dogs with breeds including bloodhounds, labs, border collies and a lab/Weimaraner mix. 

Malinda got involved in training activities from the beginning, and when the opportunity came to apply for a Baker Tilly Wishes grant, she jumped at the chance. 

Training Raider 

“I had the opportunity to be the first search ‘victim’ for my daughter’s puppy, Raider. He did so well in his first trainings, and he’s getting even better,” Malinda said. “It's not just smell this and go find, there’s a lot of training involved to get them ready for these situations.” 

Each training session involves taking a cloth or object and rubbing it on the subject to be found, so the dog has a base scent to follow. As their searching abilities increase, tracking dogs are challenged to follow trails in inclement weather conditions and with other competing scents that may distract them. When the dogs are successful in their search, they are rewarded with treats and praise. 

Raider will be fully certified in the spring as a K9 search and rescue dog, and ongoing training will help maintain the dog’s ability to distinguish scents and find missing or deceased persons. 

One grant goes a long way 

“The passion my daughter has for this is amazing. She tried so hard to get the dog and spends so much time caring for him and training him,” she said.  

The $10,000 Wishes grant will allow the organization to purchase additional safety equipment for the dogs and handlers, including GPS systems and a mobile command center with supplies, cots, and radio chargers to assist in overnight searches. 

“The team is especially excited to purchase higher-powered radios, it’ll help extend searches over wider areas,” Malinda added. “This grant will go a long way for them.” 

Malinda has total confidence in her daughter. “Thanks to all the training Shannon and Raider have done, I truly believe they’re going to save somebody.”