A six-week-old chocolate lab named Nitro is the newest recruit on the Dawson County Emergency Services K-9 search and rescue team.
The pup brings the number of work dogs on the team, which formed just over a year ago, to six.
A breeder in Cleveland donated Nitro to the division last weekend, but with a slight catch. In exchange for Nitro, Lt. Danny Speaks, who oversees the unit, must also train Nitro’s little sister Carly in arson detection and return her to the breeder.
“It’s going to be real hard to give her back,” Speaks said last Wednesday after having the pup for just one night.
He said she’ll stay in a kennel at his home rather than staying inside the house like his 3-year-old black lab Cody, who is trained in human remains detection.
Battalion Chief Milton Keller, who brings his trained 2-year-old Golden Retriever with him to work daily, said Speaks’ agreement with the breeder is a win for Dawson County Emergency Services.
Nitro, who is worth about $500 right now as a pup, will be valued at about $5,000 when he is fully trained in cadaver and live search, Keller said.
Working with the pup on a daily basis, Speaks believes Nitro will be ready for evaluation in between six to eight months.
“They don’t put a real age limit on how young the dog can be before you can certify it, as long as they can do the work,” Speaks said.
Currently, four dogs in the unit are certified work dogs. Conway, a 3-year-old Bloodhound donated to the division last year by Alto State Prison, was the first to be certified.
Just over a week ago, Cody, Maggie and Deputy Chief Tim Satterfield’s dog Maddie, a 4-year-old Black Lab, received a Level 1 Human Remains Detection certification through the American Workdog Association in Chattanooga, Tenn.
The testing included under water tests, to recreate a drowning, hanging at about 6-foot off the ground, buried at 24-36 inches, replicating a shallow grave, and ground level scent recognition.
All three dogs, which train constantly with their handlers at the county’s fire training facility on Dawson Forest Road, scored 100 percent.
“All this training has really paid off for us,” Satterfield said. “They all did real well.”
Speaks, who became fascinated with search dogs working with the DeKalb County Search and Rescue Unit, was pleased with such positive results after forming the unit just a year ago.
“[The head of the American Workdog Association] said right now he’d put our team up against any search and rescue team around that’s doing wilderness or for cadaver. He said we’re steps ahead,” Speaks said.
According to Satterfield, the unit team has assisted on several search and rescues in Dawson County, including a drowning in Gold Creek, and across North Georgia.
Before the team formed, Dawson County would have to call in DeKalb County’s unit for search and rescue missions.
“It’s so important that we get to someone lost or hurt in the woods as soon as possible, with the quick change in temperature and weather we have in Dawson County,” Satterfield said.
Now instead of calling out for help, other counties are calling Dawson County’s K-9 Search and Rescue Unit.
Speaks and Keller will be in Habersham County within the next month talking to emergency officials about how to develop their own K-9 search and rescue team.