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Search dog on hunt for national certification

Isidore, 2-year-old Belgian Malinois, will win games of hide-and-seek
Jon Bonnette works with his dog, Isidore, left, trained in air-scent search and rescue, and Raaz, trained in human remains detection, Tuesday during a search and rescue training exercise near Flora Vista.

FARMINGTON – Somewhere out on 40 acres of land owned by the Bureau of Land Management, a mother and her two boys hid, nestled in the branches of trees, waiting to hear the scamper of paws from a rescue dog named Isidore. Luckily, this was just a drill.

Jon Bonnette, Isidore’s K-9 handler, volunteers with Badlands Search and Rescue in Farmington and is working to get Isidore certified. Isidore is a 2-year-old Belgian Malinois.

Not only has Jon Bonnette trained Isidore for search and rescue, but she demonstrates some fun tricks he has taught her before a search and rescue training exercise Tuesday near Flora Vista. Isidore wears goggles to protect her eyes from the brightness of the sun and help prevent blindness.

“She doesn’t like to snuggle,” Bonnette said. “She doesn’t like to sit on the couch. She is all go, all the time. If you’re playing ball with her, she’s happy. If you take her inside, she’ll tear your house apart.”

When Bonnette takes Isidore on training exercises, he requests help from volunteers who have not worked with Isidore before, so their scent will be new to her. This is called blind training. So the volunteers hide without her seeing them or smelling them first, and then she goes with Bonnette to search for the missing.

But Isidore doesn’t just find the missing.

“She’s non-scent specific,” Bonnette said. “So she finds anyone in her search area. If a searcher happens to wander into our search area, she’s going to find them, too.”

Isidore walks within several yards of Bonnette sniffing and running around. She wears a set of goggles to help deflect the brightness of the sun, which can bounce off the sand. Belgian Malinois, especially search and rescue dogs, are prone to go blind, so the goggles help with prevention. When she has found someone, she runs back to Bonnette and pulls on a glove attached to a string on his waist as an alert signal. Bonnette asks Isidore to show him and then she leads him to her find.

Jon Bonnette plays fetch and tug-of-war with Isidore, his air-scent trained search and rescue dog, after a training exercise Tuesday near Flora Vista.

She’s been training for as long as she has been alive and can take the place of 30 to 40 people on the ground with her keen senses, Bonnette said.

“With me and her working together, we can clear a lot of land very quickly when looking for a lost hiker,” Bonnette said.

Once she makes her find, Isidore gets to play with her favorite toy – her ball. Bonnette said she loved playing fetch as a younger pup, so when they started training, he limited her fetch time to post-rescues only so she would have to “work for it.”

During their most recent training session, Isidore and Bonnette found volunteer Micha Elmore and her two sons who learned about the opportunity to “play a little hide-and-seek” and help with a training exercise.

“It’s very impressive what they can do,” Elmore said with her sons nodding in agreement.

Isidore, an air-scent trained search and rescue dog, comes back to her owner, Jon Bonnette, after finding a person. She bites on a glove that hangs from Bonnette’s belt to alert him of a find.

Isidore needs to pass a 40-acre search preliminary, and if she does, she will be able to move onto the next level, which is a 160-acre search. If she passes that, she will get her national certification.

Bonnette is always looking for more volunteers to help with blind searches. Anyone interested may email Bonnette at bonnette44@yahoo.com.

mmitchell@durangoherald.com

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