Canine search and rescue officials from six states will be in Montezuma and La Plata counties this month to be evaluated and receive national certifications.
Montezuma County Search and Rescue will host the certification programs May 21-24 for the National Association or Search and Rescue canine evaluators.
The La Plata County Search and Rescue will assist with certification exercises as well.
K-9 search and rescue handlers, and evaluators, must meet nationally recognized requirements every two years to be certified to conduct searches and investigations, and respond to disasters.
The combined certification event in Southwest Colorado was necessary because the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions in 2020 made regularly scheduled tests and certifications impossible, said Bob Mobeck, who serves on the La Plata and Montezuma County Search and Rescue Teams, in a phone interview Tuesday.
“The normal process was not available, so we had to figure out a way to catch up,” he said.
Because of the restrictions and cancellations caused by the pandemic, many canine search and rescue certifications across the country have lapsed.
The event is the first step in assuring teams are ready to respond to emergencies, “so it is critical we get this done,” Mobeck said.
The evaluators must be recertified so they can certify K-9 search and rescue teams in their local areas.
Fifteen lead evaluators will be tested for certification, and will arrive from Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Nebraska, Missouri and Oklahoma. Nineteen search and rescue dogs will be tested for various skills and certifications.
Tests will be conducted at two locations.
Water and disaster tests will take place in and around McPhee Reservoir. Obedience and agility evaluations will be conducted at Joe Rowell Park in Dolores.
The rest of the tests will be conducted at the Cherry Creek Mountain Ranch a 500-acre property on the west side of Cherry Creek Road (La Plata County Road 105) along the Montezuma- La Plata County line.
Canine teams will be testing in several disciplines.
Search methods include trailing, air scent, and area search. Disaster methods involve the dogs looking for subjects in and around water, debris piles, rock, mud and dirt slides, buildings, vehicles and equipment.
The teams are also called to aid law enforcement in crime scene investigations, so the teams will look for evidence such as articles and gunshot residue.
Organizers ask the public to give the teams plenty of room to conduct the tests.
Residents are advised to keep their dogs on leash and be aware during searches that dogs conducting air scent and area searches do not work on lead and might approach residents to determine they are the subject of the search.
If approached, residents are urged to stay still and ignore the dogs. Typically, the dogs will move on to continue their mission. Trailing dogs work on lead.
After tests are completed, handlers are generally available to answer questions. Please always ask the handler’s permission before approaching them or the dogs.
Mobeck said the large certification event in Southwest Colorado is a pilot program by the National Association for Search and Rescue. If successful, the format will be repeated across the country as a way to effectively fast-track the recertification process.