July 20, 2011
Local man trains rescue dog to be the rescuer
Joe Hurlburt found Volkl when he was just a pup at a local shelter, and now the two work hard together as a team to find people who go missing throughout the Rocky Mountain region like a recent search for a man on the Medicine Bow River.Citizen photo/Jeannette Boner
Deb and Joe Hurlburt speak reverently about all the dogs they’ve ever had, but they’re incredibly proud of their five-year-old, a German Shepherd named Volkl who ended the search this week for a man missing on Elk Mountain outside of Rawlins, Wyo.
The Hurlburts adopted Volkl from a local shelter and knew right away he had the qualities of a K-9 rescue dog.
“We didn’t get this dog to be a rescue dog, but we saw his potential right away,” Joe said. “He has personality. That’s a huge part of it, but he also has play, drive, focus, loyalty and trust. The trust part is mutual.”
“That’s why we call them dog teams,” Deb added.
The grim details of finding the 34-year-old man in a log jam on the Medicine Bow River in Wyoming provided closure for that man’s family, but it was also the highest accomplishment for Volkl and Joe, a team fully committed to the daunting task of searching and, hopefully, rescuing people in the region.
Most of the time, Volkl sports only his long legs and thick coat of fur, but he does have a few favorite outfits in the closet; different jackets that are worn during specific types of searches.
“He’s got one with a bell that we use in wilderness searches, one for the summer and another with a harness that we use in the winter when we need to get on ski lifts or into a helicopter,” Joe said. “He doesn’t like one more than the other. He’s knows they all mean it’s time to work.”
With a certain irony, work is actually play for K-9 rescue dogs like Volkl. Through years of training through Grand Targhee’s avalanche dog program, Teton County Fire District and an association with the Northwest K-9 Search and Recovery, Joe has formed an uncommon bond with his dog, resulting in the type of communication that is subtle and effective. Volkl is rewarded for his successes and thrives on the game that results in discovery.
Certified in searching through wilderness and water, as well as in snow and buildings, Volkl’s ability is nothing without Joe’s help, and visa versa. The untrained eye might not have any idea what the dog is telling his handler, but Joe takes cues from his K-9 and they work together to try and solve mysteries of missing people.
Trained to a set of standards that meet the requirements of Tri-State-K9, Joe and Volkl are part of a network of search dog teams in the mountain states, volunteers that go where they are needed. Two Saturdays ago, Joe and Volkl were called out to a search in Big Sky, Mont. They returned to Driggs for a training with the fire department Sunday, and then headed to south central Wyoming on Monday to join three other dogs teams from the Northwest K-9 Search and Recovery and one other from the Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado to aid in the search near Elk Mountain where scores of friends and family had already combined forces with the Carbon County Sheriff’s Department and Search and Rescue to try and locate the man who had been missing for four days.
“Most dog teams are volunteer. It’s about who’s close to the incident, who’s available,” Joe said. “Sometimes scenarios call for teams with specific skills, but you can always provide support, no matter what your level of training is.”
Joe and Volkl were working the Medicine Bow River last Tuesday morning when a searcher found a backpack and the scope was narrowed to include the area downstream. With high water still an issue, Joe and Volkl covered ground until the five-year-old German Shepherd alerted his handler that he’d found what so many had been searching for. As a humble part of a huge effort, Joe and Volkl had discovered the body of 34-year-old Tim Richardson, a bittersweet accomplishment for the dedicated team.