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A Nose for Finding the Lost

Volunteer Medical Service Corps of Lansdale's Canine Emergency Search and Rescue, or CESAR, recently assisted in the search and rescue of a missing Hatfield man

It helps having a nose to find the lost.

That's just what the dogs in the one-year-old Canine Emergency Search and Rescue are trained to do.

On Saturday afternoon, it was canine Bo, a bloodhound mix, his handler Rich Roberts and flanker Andrew Bell, who were able to locate missing 85-year-old Leo Beaulac. Beaulac had wandered from Spring Meadow Assisted Living at Walnut Street and Cowpath Road in Hatfield Township Friday night.

Beaulac was found Saturday afternoon in a small culvert in a heavily-wooded area about 200 yards off a long driveway of 1622 Walnut Street.

He was found 11 minutes after CESAR was dispatched in the area.

VMSC Battalion Chief Jonathan Detweiler said CESAR was dispatched around 3 p.m. on Saturday. They were advised by Hatfield Township Police that Beaulac had gone missing around 7 p.m. Friday. Hatfield Vol. Fire Co. and PennStar helicopter aided in the search to no avail. 

Detweiler said the search was called off Friday night due to nighttime conditions and would resume Saturday morning.

Detweiler said CESAR responded at around 3:30 p.m. Saturday. After gathering necessary information from police and witnesses, Bo, Roberts and Bell were placed into service at 4:04 p.m. At 4:15 p.m., they found Beaulac.

"He had fallen into a small culvert and he was unable to move," Detweiler said. "EMS and VMSC rescue responded out there. He was stabilized and extracted and attended to by the rescue team. He was transported by EMS to Lansdale Hospital."

Detweiler said is believed Beaulac came out of the facility, went down Walnut Street and made a right turn down the driveway of 1622 Walnut Street. He then walked 200 yards back into the woods, lost his footing and fell. 

"The good thing about VMSC rescue services is anybody involved in rescue has some level of medical training," Detweiler said. 

Over the past year, CESAR has assisted in three search and rescues. 

"With CESAR, we train as much as we can and be ready. Saturday was a perfect example of the trainings we do and what we prepare for," Detweiler said. "The dogs worked great with the command structure, and command worked with rescue and the ambulance. It was the best outcome possible in a search scenario."

Detweiler said CESAR was started in 2011 because VMSC recognized a need in the area for a search and rescue team in the upper end of Montgomery County.

"Part of the VMSC mission is to serve the community in a multi-faceted way," Detweiler said. "VMSC is committed to this project and it committed all of the funding necessary."

Insurance for the team is paid through VMSC, he said, and all equipment not owned by the handlers is paid by VMSC.

It took about five months to assemble the team, but now it is fired up and moving.

There are a total of seven dogs on the team and, of course, seven handlers. Veterinarian Dr. Sharon Minninger, of Telford Veterinary Hospital, and veterinary technicians are also part of CESAR and are volunteers with VMSC.

In addition, there are about four other support personnel that aid in tracking and in being part of the command structure.

"Every time a dog is dispatched, it is a two person-one dog event: a handler with the dog and a flanker who works with the handler on navigation and radio communication. They also provide supplies, if needed," Detweiler said. "And responding with a veternarian on scene is pretty incredible."

Minninger has already sutred a tracking dog who got injured on scene. Detweiler said the dog was stitched and sent back out to continue its job.

Each dog is personally owned by the individuals that handle them. 

"We brought people from a variety of places. Some came from other search and rescue teams," Detweiler said. "A majority of dogs were active search dogs prior to joining this team."

He said most of the handlers and dogs have been in search and rescue for four years. CESAR recently brought on two new handlers.

"We have a good diversity of experience," Detweiler said.

CESAR dogs specialize in live search; they are not cadaver dogs.

"When there is an individual believed to be alive or lost, we are used for that purpose," Detweiler said. "Our main purpose is to provide support to fire, police and any municipal structure looking for lost individuals."

Training occurs every week for about four hours a week. Handlers also work beyond that with their dogs.

"It's a matter of taking classes to make sure we are prepared from a knowledge standpoint," Detweiler said. "Handlers have a command structure and a search methodology. Most attend conferences once a year on search and rescue to remain familiar with the things going on in the industry." 

CESAR uses two types of dogs: track-and-trail dogs and air scenting dogs.

Bo, for instance, is a track-and-trail dog - he picks up a specific scent and follows it.

"He picked up the scent in the room (of Beaulac) on Saturday and, on the ground, followed where that scent goes," Detweiler said.

An air scenting dog tracks by scent indiscriminate - it is not looking for a specific person, but rather a human scent. 

During Saturday's rescue, CESAR called for an air scenting dog named Nunzio, a 4-year-old German shepherd, along with his handler Brent Stouffer.

"As Brent and Nunzio were sent over to 1622 Walnut Street, Robert and Bell located the subject with the help of Bo," Detweiler said.  

Most of the dogs used in CESAR are classified by the American Kennel Club as "working class."

At present, CESAR uses a German shepherd, bloodhound mix, two Bluetick coonhounds and a boxer. 

All dogs are also certified through the AKE Good Citizenship Program, in assistance with the team's veterinarian. 

"It gets a dog to be certified to be a good citizen. There is a behavioral test and 10 stations the dogs go through, from sit and stay to supervised absence, where someone else controls the dog while the handler goes to a different area," Detweiler said. "It helps round the dog out from a behavioral standpoint."

CESAR is looking for more handlers and dogs, as well as support staff. Contact them at VMSC at 215-855-3779.

Find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Canine-Emergency-Search-And-Rescue-345-a-division-of-VMSC-of-Lansdale/207824869252435

Jonathan Detweiler June 25, 2012 at 05:41 PM
Thanks for the great story Tony. We consider a great honor to serve this community and the needs of the people here.

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