‘Worth every penny’: K9 newest member of Washington County’s search and rescue team

ST. GEORGE — The Washington County Commission met the newest member of the sheriff’s search and rescue team during its last meeting for the year, and he’s of the four-legged variety.

Scout, a 2-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, is the newest member of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, St. George, Utah, Dec. 19, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Sheriff Nate Brooksby introduced Scout, a 2-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, to commissioners during their Dec. 19 meeting. He noted the sheriff’s office already had two K9 deputies, but they are patrol and drug-sniffing dogs whereas Scout is a dedicated search and rescue and cadaver-locating K9.

Washington County Sheriff’s Sgt. Darrell Cashin, who oversees the county’s search and rescue team, previously told St. George News that they used to have a dedicated, yet volunteer search and rescue K9 and handler. That came to an end over three years ago when the volunteer moved out of the county and took their dog with them.

He referred to K9s used for search and rescue operations as “a needful asset” and considered ways to restart a search and rescue K9 program when he was approached by Deputy Keegan Mitton about getting a dog.

Mitton said he had always wanted to have a K9 partner in law enforcement and asked Cashin about it after being assigned to be one of the county’s backcountry deputies who also aided the search and rescue team.

“I brought it up to Darrell and he said, ‘If you want to do the work and make the proposal, I’ll make it happen,’” he said.

Mitton examined search and rescue incidents of the last two years and concluded that an estimated 47% of those calls would have benefited from the use of a dedicated search and rescue K9.

Members of the Washington County Commission, Washington County Sheriff’s Office and Dixie Elks Charitable Foundation pose for photos with Scout, a 2-year-old chocolate labrador retriever, is the newest member of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, St. George, Utah, Dec. 19, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Cashin took the proposal to the sheriff, who in turn told him they could potentially apply for a new K9 on the budget the following year.

“And then it was the money,” Brooksby said. “I said, ‘OK, Darrell, this sounds good. Let’s look at maybe proposing it for our budget for next year.’ About a month goes by and Sgt. Cashin says, ‘Sheriff, if I get the money, can we get a dog this thing year?’”

The sheriff told Cashin they could get a new K9 if the funding was there – and it was.

In early August the Dixie Elks Charitable Foundation donated donated $15,000 to the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team for the express purpose of jump-starting the team’s K9 program.

The money helped cover the cost of acquiring  Scout along with the training he and his handler went through, Brooksby told the commission.

“I’m really happy we got the money donated for (Scout),” Mitton said, noting that the overall price tag attached to Scout’s acquisition, training and related equipment added up to around $20,000. “It adds up pretty quick. It’s a lot of money for sure.”

Added Cashing: “It only takes one find to make that money worth every penny.”

Scout has received 250 hours of training through the state’s Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) program to become the only POST-certified cadaver dog in Utah. Ongoing training, which involves tracking and keeping up with cadaver location, also takes place weekly for around 8-10 hours.

Scout, a 2-year-old chocolate Labrador retriever, is the newest member of the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team, St. George, Utah, Dec. 19, 2023 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Like other K9s with the sheriff’s office and other local law enforcement agencies, Scout lives with his handler and their family when off duty.

So why have a dog for search and rescue? Here are some of the benefits of having a canine on the team, according to Cashin and Hill’s Pet Nutrition:

  • Sensory abilities: Dogs have an exceptional sense of smell, allowing them to detect scents far more effectively than humans. This makes them highly efficient in locating missing persons, even in large areas or under rubble.
  • Speed and agility: Dogs can cover terrain much faster than humans, navigating rough or inaccessible areas with ease. Their agility helps them maneuver through debris or challenging landscapes during search missions.
  • Communication: Trained search and rescue dogs can communicate effectively with their handlers, indicating when they’ve found something by barking, digging, or using other specific signals.
  • Energy and stamina: Their endurance and stamina allow them to work for extended periods without tiring quickly, making them reliable partners during prolonged search operations.
  • Versatility: Dogs can be trained for various types of search and rescue missions, including wilderness searches, disaster response (such as earthquakes or avalanches) and locating victims trapped under debris.
  • Emotional support: Beyond their physical abilities, the presence of search and rescue dogs can provide comfort and emotional support to both victims and search teams, reducing stress and anxiety in high-pressure situations.
  • Increased efficiency: Dogs can cover large areas quickly, narrowing down search zones and guiding human rescuers to the exact location of the missing person, thereby reducing search time and increasing the chances of a successful rescue.
  • Closure for the living: The dogs can help provide a sense of closure for friends and family of a missing person by finding their bodies and thereby not leave their fate a lingering mystery for those who knew them.

As of Friday afternoon, the Washington County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue team has responded to 139 callouts for the year.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.

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