A group of canines was put to the test during the Mississippi Gulf Coast Search and Rescue training exercises. "It's more or less the same thing as training a drug, or explosives, or narcotics detection dog," said team coordinator, Carlos Redmon. He's been training teams similar to these for 30 years. Redmon's job is to make sure the dogs are ready for any search mission at any time. "We may not get a search call for three months, and then we may get three in one day. So, you never know, and they always have to be prepared," said Redmon.
This organization has played integral roles in recent search efforts, like the Janaya Thompson disappearance case in Gulfport. However, the volunteer group of dedicated canine handlers and trainers are not part of law enforcement, or any kind of emergency responders. They show up if the responders call them. "So we become that added arm for them, that other resource that they would not have normally," said Redmon.
The search for Janaya Thompson in Gulfport, and the recovery of James King from the Tchoutacabouffa River in D'Iberville were two recent examples of the search and rescue team in action.
Training for missions like those includes several categories. One is the human remains detection training that puts the dog in a boat on the water. The dog is trained to detect the scents of human remains from the bottom of bodies of water.
Another category is kayak training, which is a unique feature of the Mississippi organization. "We search for people in areas that the boats can't get to, the k-9s can't get to, or by foot," said Spring Winters. She is over the kayak division and says she hasn't found another like it in the country.
But the dogs don't only train on water. They also do wilderness exercises to teach dogs how to find possible victims in the woods. That's the type of training Rhonda Jones was introducing her dog, Apache, to. This exercise could lead to Apache one day saving a life or solving a crime. "That's what I do it for, is to help families," said Jones.
She only hopes that someone would do the same for her if she found herself in need of such services. "To me it's a miracle to have animals that can do that kind of thing," said Jones.
Mississippi Gulf Coast Search and Rescue relies on help of the public and fundraisers to operate. The organization will be set up at a dog show inside the Mississippi Coast Coliseum on September 6 and 7 to answer questions and receive donations.