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New search and rescue dog has big paws to fill

A longtime member of the Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue Team is enjoying retirement.

Blaze, the 11-year-old search dog, is leaving a big hole in the team but a new puppy is on his way to follow in the paw prints of his predecessor.

“What’s this?” asked Juanita Smith as she showed Blaze a piece of cloth. “Suche!”

Suche in German means search. She commanded her dog to find the person associated with the cloth. It’s training they’ve done at least once a week since the border collie was a puppy.

For nine years, Blaze has helped search for missing people and even human remains. Dual certified, he’s led 81 searches in and outside Santa Barbara County. In total, he’s worked more than 530 hours sniffing, searching and finding.

“Good boy!” praised Smith after Blaze found the acting-victim during his training.

Smith is a Search and Rescue volunteer and is a pro at training dogs. She was a K-9 handler for the Santa Barbara Police Department for five years.

Although she isn’t slowing down, Blaze is.

“He hasn’t lost any energy when it comes to toy but he is slowing down so we’re going to let him retire and be a dog for a little bit,” she said.

Now it’s time for a new dog to lead the team; although 4-month-old Caper doesn’t know it yet.

Caper’s training might just look like play now, but it’s the start of serious work.

“The goal is to get them to take it and bring it back,” said Smith. “Once he knows he has to bring it back, then it becomes a focus for him. So then what you start doing is start throwing the toy out, hiding his eyes, and then telling him to go find it. And so now he’s finding his favorite toy.”

That drive will soon be turned into training to become Federal Emergency Management Agency Urban Search and Rescue certified. But until then, it’s all fun and games.

It will take Caper around two years until he’s fully certified. Then he will earn his own Search and Rescue vest.

Slideshow: New search & rescue dog has big paws to fill /ap/

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