Canine companions have long been used in search and rescue missions, and now a handful of Dawson County residents are putting their equine companions to work saving lives.
Steve de Lyra and retired Marine Col. Bob Eikenberry are fusing their love for horses with community service to initiate a mounted search and rescue team.
The team has nine riders on board so far, and seeks to train riders and horses to comb through the mountainous terrain of Dawson County searching for missing people.
“People don’t always realize what a tremendous asset the horse can be,” Eikenberry said. “The horse will see and hear things we wouldn’t as a person. And horses have been trained to track by scent. Now you get to ride the bloodhound, which is a lot better.”
Eikenberry said he and de Lyra are Community Emergency Response Team volunteers and will use the community volunteer program as the foundation for the mounted team. Volunteer training on land navigation starts in January.
Volunteers interested in the mounted search and rescue program need not own a horse, Eikenberry said, but to be a searching rider, you must have access to a horse and a trailer to transport the horse quickly. He said there are also organizational roles for those without access to horses.
“You never have enough people if you’re searching large areas,” he said. “... We realized that the county just can’t have the assets on hand ready to go to do this type of work.”
Tim Satterfield, deputy chief of Dawson County Emergency Services, said he welcomes the mounted unit and said it will be a great resource.
There are many areas of Dawson County where hikers and horses venture but cars cannot, Satterfield said. The county’s many trails, lakes and rivers combined with quickly dropping temperatures overnight can mean dire endings for lost people.
“That’s the reason we need to get out there in a hurry,” Satterfield said. “We don’t need to wait around for someone else from another county.”
He said in 2008, the emergency services department searched for nine people, several of which were minors. A DeKalb County search team was brought in to help search for one of the missing children, he said.
Eikenberry said the unit also aims to help horse owners recover lost horses.
De Lyra said he hopes the mounted team will help save lives while giving riders a chance to do what they do best.
“It’s a sense of wanting to give something back and a sense of doing service, plus I like to ride,” he said. “This is serious training that we’re doing, but we want to have fun while we’re doing.”
For more information, call de Lyra at (706) 265-8182 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.