WEST CHESTER (July 25, 2019) – State Senator Andy Dinniman recently met with representatives from Search and Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania, a Chester County-based nonprofit organization that assists local and state law enforcement in responding to the recovery of lost or missing persons.
The organization, now in its 29th year, also provides highly trained search and rescue dogs and handlers to voluntarily assist in a variety of searches and services, including disaster recovery, evidence searches, recovery of human remains, vehicle searches, wilderness and urban trailing, search management, water searches, and searches in the wake of a disaster, fire or building collapse. All services are provided free of charge.
“Organizations like Search and Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania provide vital support to local emergency response efforts when it comes to finding someone or something,” Dinniman said. “These dogs and their handlers are highly trained and have incredible skills in tracking and recovery. It’s important that we recognize that these resources are available and appreciate their tremendous value to the community, especially when lives are at stake.”
Founded by Vicki and Chuck Wooters of East Goshen, Search and Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania has supported the successful recovery of numerous searches and ultimately saved the lives of missing, injured, emotionally distressed, and disoriented individuals and children. Over nearly three decades, the group has assisted in searches throughout Pennsylvania and as far as Idaho, Colorado, and Canada.
Today, Search and Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania is supported by a core staff of four volunteers and five dogs. While Wooters said that any dog can be trained to search, her team consists of German Shepherds. The dogs are obtained by the group through purchase or donation and trained for two to three years before they become operational. Each dog specializes in certain types of searches or purposes. Some dogs are trained in multiple purposes or tasks. The dogs live and work with Wooters and upon retirement, usually at about age ten, live out the rest of their days as beloved family pets.
Wooters recounted the many dogs the group has trained over the years and how hundreds of deployments have resulted in dozens of “live finds,” in which missing persons were located and brought to safety. In addition, the location of crucial evidence has helped bring criminals to justice and the recovery of human remains has brought some sense of closure to victim’s families.
Wooters and her team are also working with Dinniman to develop state standards for the to guide the estimated 50 search and rescue dog groups operating in the Commonwealth. While Wooters and Search and Rescue Dogs of Pennsylvania have amassed dozens of credentials and certifications over the years, there are no uniform state standards.
“People have an expectation of the services we provide,” she said. “Establishing basic standards benefits everyone.”
Dinniman said it was important that we take a closer look at the issue as search and rescue dog organizations provide a vital service to local fire, law enforcement, and emergency service organizations at little to no cost.
“Search and rescue dogs work in situations when time is of the essence and lives are potentially at stake,” he said. “Due to the nature and importance of their work, it seems like at the very least, we ought to have basic guidelines and criteria in place.”
Dinniman said he and his staff were currently looking at laws in place in other states, like Virginia, to guide the process and will reach out to additional partners in the search and rescue dog community for input.