Thank goodness these dogs are nosey – someone’s life just might depend on it!

Keith Hightower and Darlene Judd are definitely going to the dogs! They, along with their trusty canine companions Echo and Ella, are both certified for Kane County Search and Rescue through Desert Search Dogs. 

Hightower has been doing rescue work with dogs since 2002. Echo is a Border Collie, and actually her fourth search dog. He does wilderness live find and human remains detection. Dog trainer Hightower contracts with a Best Friends program, Canines with Careers, as well as teaching dog obedience and urban herding classes both here and in St. George.  

“How it all started was nose work,” explained Judd, who recently became officially S&R certified with her Belgian Malinois. She signed up for a dog training class that had to do with seeking and finding different scents. “It was fun to get together with

other dogs and their owners. Keith mentioned maybe I’d like to do search and rescue with my dog.”

“It’s a sport dogs love – finding things,” agreed Hightower, who taught the class. And while herding and sporting breeds are usually the best for search and rescue work, it’s very much the individual dog. “My first rescue dog was a mixed breed,” Hightower said.

The great news for search victims is the dog doesn’t necessarily consider going on a search work! Hightower said she had helped search for the Hildale flood victims, as well as the missing child on the Kaibab several years ago.

“We have just recently begun to form a search dog team to work with law enforcement on the searches,” said Hightower, who said Kane County Deputy Rod Willis and Search and Rescue member John Jorgensen have also been involved in developing a dog team. “We get the desert search dogs and handlers together to train and work closely with other different dog teams. We train monthly with Washington County Search and Rescue. We are hoping to get more resources.” 

Judd said she’s enjoyed being involved with the team, and is pleased to have become certified. “One of the requirements was to go on an actual dog search with a team. I went on a search near Escalante with the Rocky Mountain Search Dog team.”

“We can be called by other agencies besides Kane County if they need additional dogs,” said Judd. “I was also tested by Tri-State, and only need to complete another ‘big test’ area to be put on another list for other agencies if they are searching for more resources. It doesn’t hurt to be certified by more than one agency!” 

Hightower and Judd then provided a demonstration of the dogs in action. The first was a live find. High-tower went into the hills and picked a spot to hide in dense brush. Judd’s dog then went to search. It was fascinating to watch the dog excitedly covering ground, all the while sniffing, searching and quickly finding the lost person. Once Ella found the victim, she quickly ran back to handler Judd, jumping up on her to indicate the find. Judd followed the dog into the brush to the victim. 

The dog chooses the reward for the find. “My dog goes wild for tugging on ropes,” said Judd. “She will work all day for tugging. Some dogs prefer food treats. The reward has to be something they absolutely love and will work all day for. Ella loves her job, which is finding someone, because then she gets to play. It’s really just a game to her. She’s amazing!”

Hightower’s demonstration involved her dog Echo finding a small jar of decomposed cells to show its ability to find human remains. Echo excitedly ran back and forth over the terrain trying to catch the scent. Once found, he laid down by the spot where the jar was located. In another more difficult demonstration, the dog found a specimen hidden up in a tree branch!

“The Search and Rescue dogs are becoming very valuable resources to us,” said Kane County Chief Deputy Alan Alldredge. “Dogs can get into places and cover much more ground than humans. Their sense of smell and tracking skills are great help in finding living or deceased people. The dogs bring some good benefits to our Search and Rescue team. We appreciate them and the handlers!” 

“My hope is to get more people involved and working with their dogs,” said Hightower.  “But it is a big time commitment for the handler. We’re appreciative of Kane County, they’ve been really supportive.”

For more information or to contact the dog group, call Keith Hightower at 540-748-3093, or Darlene Judd at 435-899-9335.