Search and Rescue Canine Group is looking for volunteers

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Trinity K9 Search and Rescue President Jon Bonnette works with his dog Izzy by throwing him a rope, which Bonnette says is a reward for good behavior. (Photo by Moana Mihaere-Paulsen via TNS)

FARMINGTON — Serving as a dog handler for a certified search and rescue dog can sound like an attractive job, especially for someone who loves dogs and is inclined toward community service.

But Jon Bonnette, president of the new nonprofit Trinity K9 Search and Rescue (S&R) at Aztec, warns the role isn’t for everyone. He is a dog handler himself and says the demands of the job can be considerable.

“Being the manager takes a bit of dedication,” said the Marine Corps veteran who moved to New Mexico with his wife in the fall of 2020 after spending much of his life in Guam.

To begin with, Bonnette said, each handler must own the dog they are paired with. Dog handlers must also be prepared to work the dog tirelessly, even after it has undergone the 1,000 hours of scent training it must undergo to be ready to engage in search and rescue work.

“They go crazy if you just leave them locked in the house, he said of dogs certified for S&R operations. “They require constant commitment and exercise.”

Most of the dogs used by Trinity K9 Search and Rescue are Belgian American Malinois rescue dogs, which are uniquely suited to the type of work they do with the organization. These are animals that want to be challenged both physically and mentally, Bonnette said.

“Technically, these aren’t the kind of dogs that want to lay on the couch and eat Cheetos,” he said. “They have to do something or they go crazy.”

This means that they are not ideal pets. Bonnette acknowledged that even he can get infuriated by the demands his S&R dogs sometimes make of him, especially when all he wants to do is relax in a recliner and get lost in a movie. A dog that is eager to be worked on doesn’t really understand this, he says, and will be prone to hurting himself until he gets what he wants.

“They are very driven dogs,” he said.

But Bonnette said once you get addicted to working with such animals, it’s not something you can easily leave behind.

“On the other hand, if you love dogs, the bond you build with that animal is unparalleled,” he said, adding that the rewards for S&R work are the best feeling in the world.

Bonnette’s organization, which began operations Jan. 1, is designed to assist local, state and federal agencies in the search and recovery of lost or missing persons. Bonnette is quick to explain that Trinity isn’t the only dog-assisted S&R team in the Four Corners, but he said there’s a great need for all of those teams.

After all, a single trained dog can replace 30 to 40 people on a search party, he said, covering the same territory as all those people in much less time. In terrain like the Four Corners, which is mostly wild, dog teams are an invaluable asset.

“It really increases the chances of finding a missing person,” he said.

And if that person has been injured and needs medical attention, that time saved can mean the difference between life and death, Bonnette said.

Bonnette is retired and said his job running Trinity was basically his full-time job. The organization has five team members and five dogs, and is eager to recruit new volunteers, he said.

Of course, not everyone interested in such work is cut out to be a manager, but Bonnette said there are many other ways volunteers can contribute. For example, each research team also needs a navigator and a base camp operator, he said.

Since the dog and handler are responsible for finding a specific grid, usually a 160-acre patch, it is the navigator’s job to keep the dog and handler on track while they search. methodical research of this territory, said Bonnette. The base camp operator monitors the canine team’s progress and stays in communication with the incident commander, who oversees the entire S&R operation, he said.

Bonnette also wants to add drone operators to his team, as well as dog training professionals, he said, adding that all dogs should be worked at least two or three times a week.

“There are a lot of different things they can do,” he said of anyone who volunteers for the organization. “If you love dogs, love being outdoors, and love getting involved in your community, this is a great way to do it.”

Being a manager is particularly rewarding, Bonnette said. But the work can be physically demanding, as well as requiring a lot of time and patience, he said.

Bonnette said that before launching Trinity, he was involved in an S&R operation on the Navajo Nation. His dog, Izzy, hiked 30 miles in one day looking for the missing person and Bonnette said he hiked 10 miles that day, much of it in hills and arroyos. He said he was exhausted at the end of the day.

“Many dogs move extremely fast and you are at their mercy, so you have to keep up with them,” he said. “It’s trying.”

If you don’t have the time or inclination to volunteer, Bonnette said Trinity, as a new organization, has many needs and welcomes donations of money or equipment. Trinity is in particular need of kennels and a response vehicle, he said.

Bonnette can be reached by phone at 702-333-8154 or by email at trinityk9sar@gmail.com. More information about the organization can be found on its website at trinityk9sar.com.

Trinity benefited from a recent fundraiser organized by the owners of Farmington’s Cabana Tans, and Bonnette said it went very well, with the event raising much more than the target set by its organizers. . The money generated from this event will allow Trinity to bring other S&R groups in for cooperative training sessions, he said, and help build camaraderie among them.

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