Former lost dog will help to find lost people
An Illinois Valley canine, who was once a lost dog, is now training with a unit whose mission is to search for lost people.
The Central K9 Search & Rescue Unit adopted Nikita, a 10-month-old German shepherd, just after the New Year from Illinois Valley Animal Rescue.
When Nikita was found roaming on state Route 251 near Tonica, she was severely underweight and had been exposed to freezing temperatures. And when no one came forward to claim her, the Central K9 Search & Rescue Unit knew she’d be a perfect fit for their unit.
Olivia Jesse, a member of the rescue unit, said a bond was formed immediately.
With a safe home and loving family, Nikita transformed into a happy, healthy puppy just weeks after being adopted.
Jason Schweickert was assigned to be her handler and has been working to train and prepare her for when disaster strikes. He said Nikita already possesses the talent of being a strong tracker. In fact, when the team was visiting her at the animal shelter, they noticed her tracking human scents and saw it as a sign she’d be a great search-and-rescue canine.
It will take anywhere from a year to two years until Nikita is fully trained and ready to be called to a scene.
Schweickert said once the team announced they had adopted Nikita, community members rallied around and sent in donations that helped purchase her handler vest, equipment and needed care. The unit was in awe of the support and greatly appreciated every dollar sent in for the dog.
The Central K9 Search & Rescue Unit is a nonprofit, volunteer organization comprised of medics and firefighters. They own five canines that can be deployed to the scene of disasters such as a missing person, a structure collapse, affects of a horrific storm, etc.
The team has made the decision to remain its own organized group rather than pay dues to a state organization that would recognize them as an official search-and-rescue unit.
“If the community donates money, 100 percent goes into the work we do. Why pay $500 in dues to (a state organization) and when we’re called out, we can’t go, because we’ve spent our money on dues?” Schweickert said.
“We’re trying to take every donation and put it towards when a disaster happens.”
Jesse said in many cases, when a search-and-rescue dog is needed on a case, a police department has to make the call to a state organization, who then decides which canine group is sent to the scene. It could take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours for the dogs to get to the scene to begin searching, she added.
“If you call us directly, we’re going out immediately,” Schweickert said.
“We will call the local police department and let them know we’ve been deployed, but the family doesn’t have to wait on them.”
The Central K9 Search & Rescue team volunteered their time working for the Deborah Dewey case in 2016, which involved a Ladd woman who went missing and whose body was later found in a shallow grave in Standard.
The team receives calls from families all over the state, and sometimes beyond, who want immediate assistance in searching for lost family or friends.
Even though the work the Central K9 Search & Rescue team does is all volunteer, Jesse said, every moment is worth it.
“I always think about if I was in that spot. If my mom went missing, I’d want someone to help me find her. It’s that closure. To give that closure, it means the most,” she said.