The Kent County Search and Rescue K9 Unit works with Law Enforcement to provide qualified, volunteer canine teams who assist in saving the lives of missing people as well as assist in bringing closure to families who have a missing loved one.
Like the rest of the Kent County Search and Rescue members, our handlers are volunteers who own their own dogs. Being a K9 handler requires a tremendous commitment to both training and practice which can yield great results in the field.
While Kent County focuses on trailing dogs (dogs presented with a scent article who then follow that scent to the person), we also have access to other disciplines, including: air scent (area search), human remains detection, and disaster.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who owns the dogs on your team?
The dogs are purchased and owned by the volunteer handlers. They pay for all expenses such as food, vet bills, and equipment.
Who trains the dogs? Don’t you purchase them already trained?
The dogs are trained by our K9 Unit. We have experienced people who are qualified to train the handlers and dogs. Although there are some places that can train dogs, this is not recommended as the handler and dog need to train together to become a solid team.
How long does it take to train a dog?
Actually, both the handler and the dog as a team have a lot of training to do. Realistically it will take one-and-a-half to two years to become a mission-ready team or handler of a dog.
What are the steps to becoming a handler? I already have a dog (or am getting one soon).
Although many people may think becoming a handler begins with getting a dog, there is actually a lot of foundational work which needs to be done first. Many people have not considered the larger realm of search and rescue, which can be a very involved practice. A member of the KCSAR K9 unit is not just a handler, but is a member of KCSAR with K9 training added to the basic requirements.
The first couple of items deal with seeing the commitment search and rescue requires and the amount of work needed to become a mission ready dog team. We suggest observing multiple K9 trainings as well as attending a Kent County SAR Open House. Both of these items will give you a much clearer picture.
After these steps, you can begin the application process for the KCSAR team which begins with a criminal background check, an interview, and then review and acceptance to the team. After those are done, then a prospective member will be placed on a probationary status in the Training Unit. While on that unit, the member will need to work on the basic KCSAR training requirements. The member may attend K9 trainings as a support person during this time. After all probationary requirements are met, the new member will be assigned to the K9 Unit.
Once the person is assigned to the K9 Unit and the K9 Administration feels he has had enough foundational K9 support training, the dog can then be evaluated for acceptance into the program.
What sort of things does the handler have to learn?
First, a new handler has to meet all of the membership requirements for Kent County Search and Rescue. Some of these items are:
- Federal Emergency Management (FEMA) classes
- Ground search techniques
- Land navigation
- Radio communications
- Crime scene awareness
For more information please check out this FAQ. On top of these foundational items, the handler needs to learn K9-specific topics such as:
- K9 first aid
- Scent theory
- Scent article collection
In addition, it is vital that the new member obtain experience on real searches and the skills required for the selected canine search discipline.
What sort of testing do you do?
Before a dog can enter our program, it must have an entry level evaluation. After that there are three more trailing levels and a final mission ready test. We also encourage our handlers to obtain external certifications in addition to these basic requirements.
I’m really interested in becoming a handler. What do I need to do?
We recommend two things. First, attend a Kent County SAR Open House. This will give you a lot of information about how to become involved with the team. Second, observe a few of our weekly trainings and interact with the team. Becoming a handler involves a lot of time and money. It can be frustrating and yet very rewarding. We want people to understand the commitment level before proceeding.
We do not recommend getting a dog before you begin these initial steps.
I already have a dog that does really good at finding hidden food and “Bobby” when he hides. I think he’d be good for search and rescue. Can I have him join your team?
This is a popular question. We suggest you read the above question, “I’m really interested in becoming a handler.” There are many steps to becoming a handler and getting a dog into the training program. It’s not just the dog that needs to have its training. The handler will undergo an immense amount of training as well.
What types of dogs do you have on your team?
We have a variety of dogs which include laps, bloodhounds, and mixed breed dogs. We are not breed-specific; however, we do require a dog that is appropriate for search work.
My question is not h ere or I would like to learn more. Where can I learn more?
If you would like to learn more, email Kim Karr, the K9 Unit Administrator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.