July 23, 2016

Mostly sunny

Search dogs show off their skills

When a child is lost or someone is injured and rescuers are racing against the clock, what they need most are two more legs and a big wet nose.

Medina County residents got to meet some of those four-legged heroes that can make a difference in an emergency.

From left, Heather Hemmer, with Cassie (not shown), Jeff Chester with Doc, Jenni Kozuki with Benelli, Danielle Williams, and Whitney Forstner with Clyde. (GAZETTE PHOTO BY DAN POMPILI)

The North Central Ohio K-9 Search and Rescue team brought a few of its canine compatriots to Buckeye Woods Park on Sunday afternoon to show residents how much goes into training these special dogs.

“I tell all my students: ‘It’s something you want to train for, to practice for; something you want to work for,’ ” team leader Martin Warchola said.

He added, “And something you want to hope and pray you never get called out for.”

Seven other team members — well, 14 if you count the ones with tails — were present to show off the team’s know-how in finding missing people and bodies.

A graduation ceremony Sunday meant 34 dogs now are available to law enforcement and fire/rescue departments 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The group has been together under Warchola’s leadership for two years , serving Medina, Cuyahoga, Wayne, Stark and Summit counties. They’ve been called out three times, though one call was canceled by police before the team could respond.

Warchola’s group replaced another squad that disbanded.

The service is free and the team is all volunteer. Like all the others, Warchola, 54, of Lafayette Township, maintains a day job. He is vice president of engineering at Meyer Products, which makes snowplows.

But K-9s are his passion. He keeps Newfoundlands and at present has one named Maggie who is part of the team.

He said he puts in about 15 hours per week between group training and teaching classes.

Warchola said the dogs go through a full year of basic training to qualify for the team. After that, the dogs and their handlers can elect to specialize in different areas like water cadaver detection, which Warchola said is the most challenging training for both dog and human.

Before and after the presentation, Warchola answered residents’ questions and talked about his own experiences, including bringing a dog team out in search of a murdered mother, Jessie Davis, in 2007.

He said there is no ideal breed of dog for search and rescue. The dog needs only to get along with people and other dogs and have an “outgoing play drive.”

“To us this is serious. To the dogs, it’s a game. The game is, ‘I want to go find that thing I smelled,’ ” he said.

Breed will determine the age when the dog is mature enough to begin training, he said.

Warchola also said that dogs have good days and bad days, and so the team will never work with fewer than two dogs and often uses as many as four.

But rule No. 1, he said, is always trust your dog.

Contact reporter Dan Pompili at (330) 721-4012 or dpompili@medina-gazette.com.