Teenagers Beatrice Walladge and Sophie Western have been jointly named South Australia’s State Emergency Services (SES) cadets of the year after training their kelpies to become fully operational search dogs in just nine months.
- Two teenaged Loxton SES recruits jointly named SA cadets of the year after training kelpies as search dogs
- There are 10 operational canine search teams in Australia and when deployed, each dog can do the work of 40 human searchers
- Canine unit wants dogs to be used in all searches
Working off the lead, their dogs can cover large areas efficiently.
Sophie often recruits friends and family members to get lost.
Unlike in the movies, their dogs do not need an item of clothing to find someone who is lost or missing.
“That’s the question I get all the time: ‘do they need a sock to find me?'” Sophie said.
It is a common misconception, but unlike sniffer dogs or police dogs, these canines are trained to air scent: scanning an area to pick up the scent of a human.
Top dog Jagger recruits new blood
Both of the 17-year-old cadets joined Loxton’s SES canine unit a year ago after a chance meeting with its retired search dog, Jagger.
The German shepherd has been instrumental in finding people missing in South Australia and both Beatrice and Sophie found themselves a little starstruck.
“I always wondered, ‘how do they train these dogs and do they actually do the job?'” Sophie said.
“And meeting Jagger was really amazing because he’s found people and he’s saved lives.”
Both girls have wanted to work with animals since they were children.
“Growing up, I would read books and google different things about search dogs so now to be able to train one is amazing,” Beatrice said.
“So meeting Jagger I was like, yep, I’m in!”
First successful find in SA
Jagger joined the Loxton unit about six years ago and in doing so made it the first dog team in SA outside of Adelaide.
When he found someone hiding from police, in reeds along the River Murray during a search at Renmark, he quickly earned the respect of local police.
SES district officer Danny Wood said it was a historic find — the first from an SES dog in SA and one Jagger was able to back up with more success.
“And one of the most significant was a lady that went missing in Nairne and she was particularly unwell when we finally found her and that was a huge, huge find and enormous credibility from that sort of work,” Mr Wood said.
Expanding into new search territory
Search dogs are harnessed and equipped with GPS tracking equipment and once a handler gives them the command to search, they work off the lead.
Search and Rescue Dogs Australia (SARDA) said there are 10 operational canine search teams in Australia and estimates that when deployed, each dog can do the work of 40 human searchers.
The Loxton unit is keen to develop its capacity so that it can be called on for any search in South Australia and expand into cadaver and marine searches.
And the cadets are keen to keep working with their kelpies to develop their skills.