PUBLISHED: 5:51 PM on Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Volunteers help community with Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search
As team manager for Southeast Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search in Juneau, Bruce Bowler has been working to keep the group going for over 30 years. Bowler, 61, and wife Judy Bowler, have four children, and also own and operate A Cozy Log Bed & Breakfast, in Juneau. Together they are active in the search and rescue community, as part of the Critical Incident Stress Management Team, offering support to responders and families emotionally as well as debriefing afterward to dispatchers, police officers, volunteers and firefighters.

In addition to his active schedule, Bowler is a rifle instructor at the UAS, for recreational shooting sports.

The volunteer-based SEADOGS is a non-profit search and rescue organization dedicated to training and handling search dogs in Southeast Alaska. On 24-hour call certified handlers are available within 40 minutes or less of search notification. Since September, SEADOGS have performed six rescues in Southeast Alaska. SEADOGS are funded through a Games of Chance and Skill permit.

"They live to find a live person," said Judy Bowler concerning the search dogs.

SEADOGS meet once a week to practice a required workout for the team. The dogs need to keep practiced or they get rusty, said Judy. They are currently training several candidates with dogs, and getting ready for testing.

Photo by Abby LaForce
  Volunteers and trainees of SEADOGS include, from left, Randy Walling, Mike Pilling, Mark O'Brien, Carey Hulse, Chris Scholes, Kirk Radach, Bruce Bowler and Geoff and Marcie Larson.
Recently they met at the end of Montana Creek Road where KTVA news reporter Andrea Gusty, of CBS, in Anchorage interviewed Bowler, and participated in a search and rescue procedure. SEADOGS are responsible to the Alaska State Troopers and have worked alongside the U.S. Coast Guard and Juneau Mountain Rescue.

SEADOGS training techniques are so effective they have worked with national search and rescue groups and have helped establish standards for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

How does SEADOGS assist the community in times of emergency?

The team provides trained volunteers and search dogs along with others in the Search and Rescue Community, who are equipped and organized to assist the Alaska State Troopers and the US Coast Guard in search operations. The Alaska State Troopers have the responsibility for SAR in Alaska - by statute.

What type of person does it take to be a SEADOG, and what's the most challenging aspect of the work?

We look for people with strong back-country skills; advanced first-aid, map and compass and survival skills; as well as the ability and desire to work with others as part of a team. I often hear "there is no "I" in "team."

How does SEADOGS work with other organizations in the community?

We are only one small part of the SAR community. We do what we can.

What is the training process for the dogs, and how long does it take to train until they're ready for emergency situations?

We look for dogs who are already trained in obedience and agility, and begin the 1 ½ to 2-year process. Any "working dog" breed can be trained to do search work. A properly trained and experienced search dog is expected to have the stamina and ability to search alongside other search resources for an entire working period. The dog must be non-aggressive, intelligent, sociable and controllable in situations involving crowds, noise, other dogs and distractions. The dog must have a coat suitable for Southeast Alaska climate, and be of a size large enough to easily move over the terrain, but small enough to fit on chairlifts with handlers and in helicopters. A dog should be under three years of age at the onset of training. Dog breeds successfully trained with SEADOGS have included Golden Retrievers, German Shepherd's, Labrador Retrievers, Australian Shepherd's and mixed breeds. Most dogs on the team are spayed or neutered, although this is not a requirement.

SEADOGS feels that motivation is the single most critical quality a dog must possess. A motivated dog will do almost anything for their reward. Most of the dogs that have become certified have a very strong retrieve instinct. Finding handlers with the right qualities is much harder than finding dogs.

What advice do you have for someone in an emergency situation in the wilderness?

The US Forest Service offers good advice: Know where you are going.

Bring a compass and a good map. The bigger the better. The Forest Service Trail system map makes a great tarp in an emergency. Plan your trip, difficulty and duration. Gather information from friends; the Juneau Alpine Club, State Parks or land management agencies. Use the Buddy System: Hike with a friend. Tell someone where and when you are going, when you expect to return and how many individuals are in your party. You don't want to be by yourself in an emergency. Shape up: Be in good physical condition. Watch your step: Trails, walkways, rocks and logs are all slippery when wet. Loose rock and soil can "give way" underfoot. Cliffs and other hazards may not be readily apparent in dense vegetation or poor visibility. Wear bright clothing: Bring appropriate gear, and stay away from cotton. Base your choices on trail conditions, weather, season, and length of trip. Sturdy boots, rain protection, hat and gloves are a must any time of year. Also bring a comfortable, well-fitting daypack stocked with high-energy foods, shelter, a cell phone or VHF radio, signals, water and first aid kit for a hike of any length. Be weather wise: Keep an eye on current and predicted weather conditions. Even in summer, exposure to wind and rain can cause hypothermia. Pack bright rain gear every time. Learn basic first aid and carry a small first aid kit. Learn how to identify and treat injuries and illnesses. Identify the symptoms of hypothermia, and dehydration and know how to treat them. Train in first aid and CPR and keep current.

Bring clean water and keep hydrated by drinking two to four quarts per day. If you are collecting water in the field, no matter how clean or pure a stream or body of water looks, it's likely to contain water-borne parasites and tiny organisms that can cause discomfort and sometime serious illness. Use filters (1 micron or less) or chemical treatment.

Traveling after nightfall has resulted in many accidents from falls. Some trails are difficult to find at night and easy to become disoriented lost.