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Lost & Found - Two Simple Strategies to Save a Life

Lost & Found - Two Simple Strategies to Save a Life
By: Amy Jacquin

We've heard about frantic searches for children who wander away from parrents, or for alzheimer's patients who walk away from home. This story may provide faster help, should such a scary situation happen to someone you love.

The Scott County Search Dog Team teaches two simple principles: Hug a Tree and the Scent Sponge. What you learn through these programs may save some life-threatening hours if you should ever need to be found.

"These guys are personal pets with very serious part-time jobs," Marsha Morton explains to residents at Jackson Manor Nursing Home.

Morton is the Captain of the Scott County Search Dog Team. The pets she refers to lounge around the residents' chairs... Duke the Labrador, and Duncan the German Shepherd. It's all part of a presentation by the the search dog team.

"We're constantly taking the dogs and giving them all types of situations and scenarios," Morton continues.

Dogs noses are 200 times more sensitive than ours, making them very beneficial in search work. But before they can follow your trail, they need to know your scent. And that's where the "scent sponge" program comes in.

"What a scent article is, is something that has your scent on it," she explains. "Your skin cells or sweat, just where you do your everyday activity. It soaks into the sponge."

Cut a simple household sponge into squares, and pin a section under you clothes next to the skin. Wear the sponge next to your skin for 24 hours.

"You drop it in a freezer bag, and put your name on it," Morton demonstrates. "That scent will last up to one year."

Marsha suggests everyone in your family do this. And mark it on your calendar so you update the scent every year.

"Therefore if someone wanders off and everybody is in a chaotic state, you go to the freezer, and pick out the sponge. It thaws in a matter of minutes, seconds sometimes," she says. "And you have an uncompromised scent."

The sponge provides a pure scent, even better than a worn tee-shirt or pillow case.

"In this day and time, we have all types of industrial detergents that we use, which will contaminate the scent," Morton explains. "The sponge is an opportunity to give you a very true reading and strong smell. It helps these dogs get a head start."

Every minute counts when someone is braving extreme weather, or lost without medication. Dementia patients tend to wander in a straight line, but children have no pattern. And their energy can carry them far from home base.

The Conservation Department teaches children what to do if they get lost in the woods. It's called "Hug a Tree." The Scott County Search Dog Team promotes that program, and encourages families to reinforce the simple guidelines.

"We teach them to look for landmarks," says Morton, talking about Hug a Tree. "When they realize when they are lost, to stay still."

Find a rock or big tree, and hug it. Make a nest. Stock a fanny pack with basic supplies, and teach your children what each item is for.

"We recommend a whistle, because they can get tired of yelling 'help'," she continues.

And never leave camp without a trash bag.

"The trash bag comes in handy if they want to sit on the ground and not get wet," she says. "But if they're out there and they have to do it overnight, they can put a slit in the top of the trash bag and use it as a poncho."

If children know how to react -- and if you provide search dogs with a pure scent -- it can dramatically speed-up the search process.

To demonstrate, Amy Jacquin gets "lost" in a Cape County park. The only scent she provides is scuffing her feet. It's a drizzly day, but sometimes humidity and water actually strengthen the scent.

"Duke" is certainly ready to go! Trainers treat searches as a game, to keep the dogs interested. One look shows how happy Duke is to be doing his job.

"Find her... Come on boy... Where is she?" Marion Stricker coaxes in an excited voice. "Where is she? Where'd she go?"

Duke's ability to smell scents in the air quickly leads him directly to me. They often use more than one dog in a search, combining dogs that can air scent, and dogs that trail scent. They build on each other.

And that's a comforting thought should you ever be scared or in trouble.

Members of the Scott County Search Dog Team regularly make presentations to schools, nursing homes, and community organizations.

They're funded with donations, and accept new members.

New members must be willing to devote the time needed to train their dogs. And you must be able to drop everything at a moment's notice to participate in a search. Which often means over night.

Contact Capt. Marsha Morton at 573-481-9208 for more information.

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