Chapter 2,Truly Saintly, first rescue for dogs.
LOST IN A STRANGE LAND
It all comes down to this: Accept your hunting partner
like your mate--for better or for worse."
The night fog had lifted and the early sunrise was shinning brilliantly upon the horror frost that covered the trees and bushes. Taylor thought it looked like millions of spiked diamonds sparkling all over the landscape. There wasn’t much snow on the ground, maybe an inch. She turned away from the kitchen window letting out a sigh. Winter was sure beautiful but boy it can be so cold. The thermometer was reading ten below as she glanced at it hanging outside the window above her kitchen sink. She let out a shiver and wrapped her robe around her tighter and grabbed another cup of coffee.
Taylor’s fifteen year old daughter, Brittney came bouncing into the kitchen with her two brothers in tow, fourteen year old James and eleven year old Darren.
“You kids make sure you put on your snow pants, hats and gloves this morning” she chided, “Its ten below zero outside.”
“Ok mom,” James said taking a bite of cereal. Lily lay at his feet looking up at him with her half mask face and big brown eyes, hoping for something to drop to the floor. She knew it was fair game then.
“Mom don’t forget school gets out early today and I want to go to Sean’s house,” Darren said putting on his snow pants and boots.
“That’s fine” she answered. “Just be home by suppertime,”
Beep, Beep went the pager sitting on the kitchen table. Brittney picked it up and handed it to her mom.
“A rescue beep mom, it’s your first one,” she said excitably, jumping up and down as she handed it to her.
The boys had anxious looks on their faces waiting for her to say something.
“The page says wilderness rescue,” Taylor said to the kids as she was grabbing for the phone. She turned around to her kids with phone in mid air and told them they should be getting out the door to catch the bus.
“Good luck mom,” Brittney said waving as she went out the door “We will want a full story when you get home,”
“Ya mom,” both boys nodded at her as they followed big sis out the door.
“Be responsible and have a good day,” she yelled after them.
“Got a call in from the emergency dispatcher, two male hunters went out last night hunting elk up in the Gravelies south of Ennis and have not come back. They are from back east.” John said, as Taylor was grabbing her winter snow clothes, trying to cup the phone between her ear and shoulder.
“Alex is on her way,”
“We will be ready,”
Taylor called Lewis and left him a message on his cell phone. He drove truck for a freight company in Belgrade.
Lily felt the excitement from Taylor and knew something was happening. She had her eyes fixed on her, following her around as she was getting ready. She sat on the kitchen chair and pulled on her snow pants and boots, then pulled her orange rescue logo vest over her winter coat. It had a silhouette patch of a black lab with the organizations name written around it like a circle on the front. Alex’s silver Jeep Cherokee pulled into the driveway, she grabbed her water proof gloves has she and Lily went out the door.
Taylor put on Lilies reflective orange collar and snapped the leash on, then grabbed her waterproof gloves as they went out the door. The snow crunched like glass under her feet as she made her way to the back of the Jeep. Alex had jumped out and was already there. She swung open the spare tire carrier, lifted the back hatch and pulled out the light weight aluminum ramp out from underneath the bumper; it latched when it hit the ground. Lily ran up the ramp and sat down behind the passenger seat and greeted Amber. The back seat was taken out and a wooden rescue box built by Lewis was in its place. The box had sections built in it that held rescue gear so it was easy to find, especially when needed fast. It held working harnesses, long lines, and dog rescue vests, radios, flashlights, two hard hats, compass, first aid kit for both human and dogs, other items that may come in handy and back packs to carry items on trail. Alex and Taylor kept the equipment up to date and in good working order.
Dean worked for an off road shop and loved building four wheel drive trucks and SUVs. He had put a three inch lift on the Jeep with thirty three inch tires. Taylor always felt she had to take a running jump to get into the jeep. Today she crawled in on her knees cause of all the clothes she had on.
“If Dean makes this jeep any taller, I’m going to cut him off at the knees so he knows what its like to get in, especially with all these clothes on,’ Taylor mumbled to Alex as she seated herself.
“Oh, you like it and you know it,” Alex replied laughing at her best friend.
Taylor just gave her a smirky look and rolled her hazel green eyes.
“Isn’t this exciting, our first rescue with the girls,” Alex’s voice electrifying the words.
“It is, I hope all goes well,” Taylor replied matching her enthusiasm.
Sara stood in front of Alex and Taylor as Amber and Lily was right beside them. She helped train many search and rescue dogs and she loved it, it showed in her devotion to the dog and handler. A good dog will learn quickly, a good handler will train them even quicker. Training a search dog requires patience, determination; people to search for, a dog who’s willing to work, and a good teacher. Sara had all these traits. She explained that it can take one to many hours depending on the complexity of the search problem and the amount of time available.
“It will be a huge commitment but very rewarding when your dog assists in finding a missing person, “she finished looking at them both waiting for a response.
They shook their heads yes. She was only reminding them of it even though they had a meeting the other day over what it would entail and the results. It took weeks of training between 3-4 sessions a week. The dogs would have to learn to follow the scent of humans, dead or alive across miles of wilderness or desert.
“We start with a game of hide and seek,” Sara began “it’s a training strategy to get the dog interested in finding a missing person.”
Keith her son was there to help. Dogs were his life too and he wanted to become a skilled trainer like his mom. After a couple of past meeting, the girls had gotten familiar with him.
Keith held Amber first while Alex was holding Ambers favorite treat and showed it to her. She started running away jumping up and down enthusiastically calling Amber. Alex ran behind a tree a few yards away.
“Find-em,” Keith said to Amber as he let go of her.
Amber was so excited that she practically ran into Alex as she came running around the tree looking for her. Alex praised her and gave her the pepper jack cheese she had in her hand.
“Finding people is fun, huh girl,” Alex said as she was laughing and petting her back. Amber rubbed the side of her head up against Alex with a sparkle in her eyes.
Soon, the girls were finding mock victims in the mountains, the prairies, along the rivers and the most popular place for St Bernard’s, the snow.
It was almost dark by the time the two hunters realized they were lost.
“I can’t believe you forgot the compass,” Ken breathlessly told his friend. They had been walking in circles and he knew they were lost. The wilderness just seemed to look the same no matter where they turned. The temperature was dropping rapidly.
“Sorry I forgot the compass, but we both know that we need to stop and set up for the night or we will freeze to death.” replied Jason.
Ken nodded in agreement and set out to look for some fire wood. When he got back Jason was crouched over his backpack with the contents strung around him. He had a worried look on his face.
“What now?’ asked Ken.
Jason looked at his buddy and just shook his head.
“You forgot the matches?” Ken asked hoping he was wrong as he dropped the bundle of firewood at his feet.
“If you weren’t in such a hurry maybe I would have gotten everything,” Jason blurted out as he jumped to his feet.
“If you weren’t such a procrastinator, I wouldn’t have to hurry you along,” Ken spat at him. He could feel his face flushing and the veins in his neck popped out.
Jason could see even in the dim light of the forest that a fight was no way of settling matters but Ken was furious.
He picked up his flashlight and pointed it at Ken “I got the flashlight,”
All the anger went from Ken as he saw the contrite look of his buddy. “I’m sorry, I know I hurried you but you do procrastinate,” he added with lifted eyebrows.
Jason let out a sigh of relief as he apologized back.
“Lets get some tree bows and try to make a shelter and we huddle together we can try to keep each other warm.” Ken said kicking the pile of wood.
The stars were twinkling in a cloudless sky by the time they got the shelter built of tree limbs and pine bows heaped on top. Jason pulled a blue tarp out of his backpack and he laid it on the ground.
“Hopefully this will keep the chill of the ground off of us some,” he stated to Ken as he sat down on it. Both hunters sat with their backs against each other, huddled up for warmth. They had pulled the tarp up around their legs. The hushed night closed in on them, not a creature seemed to move or make a sound.
“We should of taken our wives advise and got set up with an outfitter,” Ken said his voice breaking the stillness.
“Ya, we thought we were the great white hunters that could get anywhere even in a strange land,” Jason remarked. Turning his head toward Ken he whispered “You know our wives will be worried when we haven’t called them tonight to let them know we are ok.”
With a heavy sigh, Ken replied “They will send someone for us I’m sure, we just got to make it thru this night.”
Then all was quiet leaving them to their own thoughts.
Jason wasn’t sure what time it was when he woke up but it was still dark out and so cold. His body felt like lead as he tried to move around to see Ken. Ken was lying on his side all curled up.
“Ken, wake up,” Jason tried to shake him but he was to cold and stiff to do much shaking himself. “Wake up, wake up,” as he pleaded even more. He leaned over and put his ear near his face.
“Is he still breathing?” Jason thought as panic gripped his insides.
He took off his glove and put his hand under his nose. Relief swept thru him as he felt a faint breath.
Ken didn’t move or make a sound. After not getting a response, he sat up on his knees and fumbled with Kens coat and opened it up. He then opened his coat and pushed Ken with all his strength unto his back. He straddled his friend and lay on top of him chest to chest to try and combine their body heat pulling their coats around them both.
“We just got to make it thru the night,” he thought.
When Alex and Taylor parked at the rendezvous point, the other members of the team were there and a helicopter was buzzing overhead. They got Amber and Lily out of the back and slipped on their orange rescue vests. John was at a table with a map laid out. Alex, Taylor and their dogs joined him and the team.
“The two hunters we are looking for, they’re names are Ken and Jason. Kens wife called the police department this morning saying she had not heard from the hunters. They were suppose to call last night, but didn’t. She did however know what rental place they rented from and gave them a call. She said they rented a dark green F150.”
Alex bit her bottom lip. Taylor gave her a funny look.
“A dark green truck?” Joe said tilting his head “In this green forest?”
“I believe that’s why the helicopter isn’t finding any truck like that, wherever its sitting, it’s blending in. The helicopter has been circling around this area here,” he circled the area on the map with his index finger, “There are lots of roads up here, so were going to split into teams and take a road and try to locate the truck on the ground.” With a sigh John added “They could be anywhere.”
The teams got their orders and what road each was going to take.
As the silver Jeep made its way down the bumpy road, everybody split to go to their destinations. The walkies crackled and came to life as Tony’s voice came over it.
“This is group one, everybody check in.”
“This is group three,” Taylor’s voice sounded over the radio.
When everybody was done, Tony’s voice crackled into the walkie again, “Ten four, every ones walkies are working, call in when you find something that will lead us to the hunters, over and out,”
The road turned left as Alex drove the jeep into a huge wooded area. It turned into deep pot holes on both sides and was threatening to bounce their heads off the ceiling. The shadows played across the road and banks as it kept going deeper and deeper into the woods.
“It’s really shady in here and it feels like the temperature dropped just sit-in in this jeep,” Alex commented looking over at Taylor. “It looks like the road comes to a dead end up here. This is where we get out.”
“Look!” exclaimed Taylor, pointing to the right “There is a dark green truck parked off the side of the road down in the trees,” Her face furrowed as she looked closer. “It’s in the shadows and can hardly be seen.”
Alex pulled up along side the truck and both of them jumped out.
“It’s an F150,” Alex said “I bet this is the truck.”
Taylor called team one on her radio and told them they had found the truck and what road they were on. It reached all teams at the same time.
“Team two and five will come join you and the others are close enough to meet you in the middle from the other side,” crackled Tony’s voice.
“We will head on in and the others can catch up with us,” explained Taylor
“Sounds good, over and out.”
Amber and Lily moved quickly down the ramp as Alex and Taylor grabbed them by their collars.
“This is the real deal girls,” Alex said seriously, as she led Amber to the truck.
Taylor and Lily walked around to the other side. They gave the signal to search and instantly their heads went to the ground sniffing around the truck.
With their noses close to the ground like a vacuum and the saliva from their joules it didn’t take them long to pick up a scent. They let out a woof and took off, practically dragging Alex and Taylor behind them.
Lily and Amber picked up each of the hunters unique scent from the ground. Humans have millions of skin, hair, clothing particles, sweat and oil vapors that leave the body during our walk in life. These microscopic particles are only detectable to the canine’s finely tuned nose.
Walking was a lot of tripping as the snow had a hard crust on top. It seemed their feet sunk in more often then not. Once, Taylor’s foot sunk and she was almost pitched forward when her foot didn’t slip out of the hole. Alex caught her halfway down by the arm and pulled her back up.
When the girls started up the mountain side, they decided it was time to take their leashes off.
‘Let’s sit for a moment,” a panting Taylor said has she sat on a log.
“Yes, I agree,” Alex replied out of breath. She took out the map and was figuring out where they were at.
“Team three, this is team five, we are following your tracks, come back,” It was Julies voice.
“Perfect timing,” Taylor commented as she picked up the walkie.
“This is team three, we are two miles west of the jeep, we are walking up the mountainside, you will see our tracks where we veered off. The dogs have picked up their scent and we are making our way in that direction.”
“We are following your lead, over and out”
The sun shone brightly over the valley but no warmth was to be had.
“I can’t believe how cold it is. It’s not even warm here on this mountainside.”
“The fog is still hovering in places too,” Taylor answered back.
Amber let out a woof and took off. Alex jumped up after her and so did Taylor and Lily. It wasn’t a few yards and they seen what got her attention. She was digging at one end of a log like crazy. Taylor started laughing.
“What’s so funny,” Alex said glaring at her dog.
“I think our hunters are a rabbit,” she replied.
About then a rabbit came bouncing out the other end, pausing for a moment to look back. Its bright black button eyes seemed to be laughing back at them. It shook its body as if saying ha ha I fooled you as it ran into the woods. Amber was still digging her way to china. Alex walked over and pulled her out of the log and scolded her for what she done then sat down and glared at her. Taylor’s laugh was now giggles as she tried to restrain herself. Amber realizing what she had done, lowered herself to the ground and put her head between her paws with a penitent look.
“Now that only you have had a good laugh,” as Alex turned her glare to Taylor saying “Lets go find these hunters.”
They got back on the scent trail, keeping a good pace with the girls. The mountain leveled out on top. Alex looked at her watch as they stopped for a moment.
“It’s been hour and half since we started.”
‘They must have come in a long ways to hunt,”
“The elk are way up here,” Alex said looking up and across the top.
Taylor got on the walkie and talked to team five to let them know the progress.
Amber let out a whine and started to trot off to the south. Alex grabbed her cause she wasn’t sure if it was another rabbit or something else. Lily started in too and was looking the same way to the south.
Reading Alex’s thought, Taylor whispered “I think we should walk that way, apparently something is over there,”
Alex nodded her head and let Amber go. They ran after their dogs across the top, down into a ravine and up the other side. The dogs were barking by now and came to a complete stop in front of a big pine tree. Alex and Taylor came running up behind them and not till they had gotten there, noticed a pine bow roof. It was a makeshift shelter up against the tree. Lily dug her way in the side of the shelter with Amber right behind her.
“Anybody here,” Alex hollered as she and Taylor started pulling away pine bows.
There was dead silence. No reply, no sound. Alex and Taylor gave each other a
worried look. Their expressions mirrored each other. If this is them, they maybe dead.
It didn’t take long to remove all the bows. One man was on top of the other and trying to wave Lily away as she kept nuzzling him with her cold nose and warm breath.
“We are search and rescue,” Taylor said dropping to her knees.
“Oh thank God, Ken, someone has come, it’s just not a dog.”
Alex grabbed her pack and pulled out a thermal blanket and helped Jason off of Ken and wrapped him up. Ken was mumbling but making no sense. She pulled another thermal blanket out and wrapped it around Ken. When wrapped around a body, it would retain and reflect back ninety percent body heat. Taylor called the teams to let them know they had been found. Lily sat next to Jason and he put his arms around her to feel her warmth.
“I am so glad to see you people, you just don’t know,” he cried into Lily’s fur. “I thought we were dead. I heard this whirring noise a couple of times but couldn’t comprehend anything.”
Amber started nuzzling Kens face and he started mumbling and nodding his head back and forth. She was getting him to respond. A big St. Bernard nose would make anybody respond Alex thought as a smile spread across her face.
Joe and Julie came into view and Taylor hollered at them. Minn and Quinn were trotting in front of them.
‘Lets get a fire built to get these guys warm,” Alex said as they walked up.
“I will get the wood,” Joe replied turning around. He didn’t get very far when he came across the small bundle of wood that laid scattered on the ground. He looked back at the team and men. They must of thought about starting a fire but didn’t he thought.
Shrugging his shoulders he picked it up and went back.
“We are going to build a fire and get these guys warm then will be right out,” Taylor said into the walkie.
“Let us know when you are all on your way,” John replied back “We are waiting here at the vehicles.”
An hour went by before Ken was able to stand and walk. Joe and Julie supported him on each side as they walked down the mountain.
Everybody was waiting for them. The helicopter found a place to land and was waiting to take them into the hospital. John and Tony listened as Jason told them that they had gotten lost and how the compass and matches were fore gotten along with a couple other things.
“That was a smart thing to do,” Tony said “You helped save your friends life.”
“Thank you, it did keep us both warm.”
“You will have to file a report with the police. Here’s my card with my cell number on it if you need help with anything.” John said handing it over.
Jason took it and nodded thank you as he handed the keys to the truck to Tony, asking him to bring it to the hospital.
“I will make sure the truck gets to the hospital for you and leave the keys at the information desk”, Tony said as he flipped the keys around his finger.
Jason boarded the helicopter and sat down next to Ken.
When Alex and Taylor got home, their families were waiting to hear the exciting story about the girl’s first rescue. They told the story over and over again and answered many questions. It was the first day of many rescues to come.