When it comes to choosing a K9 SAR and handler for searching for missing persons, it's important to look for certain qualities and characteristics. We reached out to K9 Task Force for general information.
Search and Rescue / Search and Rescue dogs are not the same as Forensic K9s/Criminal Response K9s.
Search and Rescue dogs respond to missions that are NOT criminal related and are usually for a live person lost in the wilderness, a person who has become deceased under no foul play in the wilderness, or looking for victims in an avalanche. Basically, they are looking for a full body, on the surface, that expired due to natural causes and not concealed. These are usually referred to as “SAR dogs, Search Dogs, Rescue Dogs, or Cadaver Dogs.”
SAR dogs, in most cases, are not qualified to do anything forensic / criminal related.
Forensic K9s specialize in the location of human remains related to foul play. These K9s are trained and certified to detect human remains down to minuscule amounts up to full bodies that are buried, concealed, dismembered, or otherwise altered to conceal. These K9s are referred to as Human Remains Detection K9s, HRD K9s, Forensic K9s, Detector K9s or Detection K9s.
Properly trained and certified forensic K9s, have different terminology in court. They “Sniff” for something they do not “Search”.
Search refers to non-criminal. Rescue is for rescuing a living person. Therefore, in a foul play case you would not use either of those terms.
There are very few Search and Rescue teams in the entire county who are also qualified or properly trained and certified to do forensics. Again, many handlers will tell you they can do both, and a lot don’t even know what the difference is. Many agencies don’t even know what the difference is.
Most often when SAR is called too much time has lapsed for "scent tracking". Scent tracking is only optional if it occurs within onset of event to 72 hours at the most.
Also, the handler and dogs must maintain current certification to be of value. A person from the community with a dog that can track a rabbit is of no value in this type of event.
Below are example questions to ask, credentials to look for, and K9/Handler resumes, provided by K9Task Force. We hope these resources are helpful in your search.