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The Heroes of 2020
In their latest successful effort, Peyton and River helped locate a missing rescue dog in Corner Brook
David Critch had no idea when he got his dog Peyton two and half years ago that they’d end up helping search for other people's missing dogs.
Peyton is a pure-bred golden retriever who, along with Critch, has helped find two missing dogs in the last couple of months.
The latest was on Thursday when they became a part of an effort to find Sable, a rescue dog from Texas that went missing in Corner Brook before she could be united with her new family.
“After he did it the first time, I was pretty confident he could do this.” — David Critch
“I just wanted to get outdoors more and I wanted a big dog, an athletic dog to get me going,” said Critch, a firefighter with the Corner Brook Fire Department, explaining why he decided to get Peyton.
The pair enjoy hiking and being out in the woods, so when he heard about a dog that had been missing in the Blow Me Down Mountains for a few days in October, he thought why not help out? And Peyton found the dog.
“After he did it the first time, I was pretty confident he could do this,” said Critch.
“I guess it’s in his DNA. If you watch him you, can tell he has a knack for this thing. It’s pretty cool to see.”
On Thursday, Critch, who lives in Steady Brook, decided to see if he and Peyton could help the effort that was underway to find Sable and posted a message on Facebook.
Garry MacKenzie, who was a member of the team co-ordinating the search, got in contact with him.
MacKenzie was searching with his own dog, River, and he let Critch know what they needed and made sure he was on board with how the search was being handled.
Critch was willing to help in any way he could and, following MacKenzie’s directions, walked the transmission line in the area of Queen Street to map the area. Sable had been hanging out in the Cobb Lane area, but had crossed over to Queen Street.
MacKenzie and River, a four-year-old German shepherd/husky mix rescue, had already mapped the area of Cobb Lane.
After walking the transmission line, Critch and Peyton started looking for paw prints between homes in the Queen Street area.
A short time later, Peyton spotted some prints and got down to work.
“And it was almost like he knew exactly what was going on. He got a scent of the paw prints and this is a dog who doesn’t normally pull me along on walks, but he got the scent of the paw prints and he pulled me through probably three or four backyards.”
When rounding a corner in one yard, Peyton started barking and they came upon Sable.
Critch said he was in utter disbelief.
“Here it was, four days people were looking for this dog and we found the dog probably within a half hour.
“I’m pretty proud of him,” Critch said.
Sable took refuge under a deck, so Critch moved Peyton back, called MacKenzie and waited for him and other members of the rescue group to arrive.
One of them was able to crawl under the deck and slip a catch pole over Sable's neck. She was nervous but open to coming out, and once she saw the crate they’d brought she went in and curled up and started taking food.
MacKenzie said Critch did the right thing by following the direction of the local searchers.
After tracking Sable, he said, they knew the area she was going to and from and it was important to control activity so as not to scare Sable and cause her to bolt.
“The more time that goes by, the more feral they revert to and the more instinctual they get,” he said.
In Sable’s case, she was used to being on the move and on the streets.
The search for Sable was also not River’s first.
MacKenzie, a member of the Bay of Island Volunteer Search and Rescue, started to train her a few years ago to search for people, but in the last couple of years has turned her skills to looking for lost dogs.
“Dogs do all this anyway,” he said.
And he’s learning that while it may be innate for some breeds, virtually any dog is capable of being a search dog.
“It’s more about their personally and their drive.”
“The only trick to learning how to search with a dog is figuring out how to converse with them. If we spoke the same language, searching and rescuing with a dog would be the easiest thing in the world.” — Garry MacKenzie
He said it’s about their willingness to play, and go to work and do something for a toy or food for a reward.
“The only trick to learning how to search with a dog is figuring out how to converse with them. If we spoke the same language, searching and rescuing with a dog would be the easiest thing in the world.”
But failing that, MacKenzie and River have a routine that differentiates searches from their normal activities.
He wears a different vest when they go out tracking and River also wears a vest. River will do anything for a toy and so he uses a different toy than ones that are just for play. He also talks with her a lot, telling her what they are going to do, using key words like search, find and track.
Before they start he’ll play with her to get her excited to start, show her the toy and then take it back. She understands she’ll get it back when she finds something.
The more they do, the more MacKenzie is able to pick up on River’s cues and figure out what her different behaviours mean.
By the sound of things, there will more searches in both Peyton’s and River’s future.
MacKenzie has suggested they do some training together and Critch said he plans on taking him up on the offer.
Diane Crocker reports on west coast news.
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