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Larimer County Search And Rescue Dog Has The Right Stuff


Lakota and her best friend Jayne.

By: Kris Hazelton

Lakota, best friend and companion of Jayne Zmijewski is now a nose above the rest as she has just done something no other dog in Colorado has done. She has earned three Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado (SARDOC) certifications including Wilderness Trailing, Wilderness Scent and Water Certification. Out of state, Lakota has also earned her Evidence Training and she is HRD (human remains detection) Certified.

When someone is reported lost or overdue, volunteer search and rescue (SAR) dog teams are available to respond, day or night, to help in the search effort. Lakota and Jayne are one of those teams. SAR dogs learn how to sniff out people following their scent.

A rescue dog and their handler must undergo many, many hours of intensive training to be fit for duty and training is not for the faint of heart.

Requirements for the SAR dog include trainability, agility, endurance, and the ability to get along with other dogs and people. A search dog is a valued member of her handler’s family, and she regards people as her friends.

Certification training can take from two to three years, working three to four hours a day, three to six days a week, often in group, team-oriented sessions. Each search-and-rescue field requires different types of training.

Jayne has been with Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado for 22 years with two dogs she had before Lakota.

According to Jayne, dogs first must be certified in one or the other, wilderness trailing or wilderness air scent. Normally a dog only attains one of these certifications, Lakota has mastered both! Jayne started training with Lakota when she was just eight weeks old and the two have been at it ever since.

Jayne smiled and said, “It’s so fun to watch these dogs train, you can just see when the little light bulbs go off in their heads when they finally get what we’re teaching!”

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Since then, Lakota and Jayne have gone on over 60 missions, and many assists. She has had successful water finds and helped with evidence searches and has had quite a bit of success in assisting in the National Park and with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (CDOW).

Jayne says that after every mission the dogs are rewarded for their hard work with special playtime. They know the reward of play is coming and that is very important especially in the case of a deceased victim. The dogs can feel the emotions and death is sad for them as well. They can become very depressed in that situation. They each have a special toy and the only time it comes out is after a mission.

According to Jayne, Lakota is so intense and so committed, she will go through anything to get to the subject they’re looking for. Her whole life she’s been 100% committed to SAR. When their pager goes off and Jayne begins to gather their equipment, Lakota gets more and more excited. Jayne said, “I tell her, ‘We’re going on a mission!’ and she builds up her own level of excitement. As soon as the harness, vest and radio come out, Lakota knows she’s going to work.” Even for practices, Jayne can hardly get Lakota outfitted, she’s so excited. Lakota has an absolute love of Search and Rescue, she loves people and is very bonded to them. Jayne said, “Somehow Lakota just knows she’s going out to help people and she can’t wait to get going!”

Many times Lakota has alerted her best friend Jayne to dangers that are around during a training or a mission. She has actually alerted her to a group of three mountain lions who where watching them when on a mission and quite possibly saved their lives. According to Jayne, “The mountain lions were paralleling us in the dark for more than a mile. We were searching for a lost person and Lakota became very intense and protective, she was very worried about us humans. Then we spotted the eyes looking at us. She saved us from being attacked by lions that night!”

All this activity comes naturally to Jayne who has always been an outdoor enthusiast and animal lover. She is currently a CDOW volunteer and instructor, (for 44 years) SAR volunteer, Mountain Lion Researcher, Bear Aware Volunteer, CDOW instructor and an Advance Master Hunter Education Shooting instructor.

Jayne says, “As for what’s down the road for us, Lakota is nine years old now, we’ll continue our SAR careers using all the training methods we’ve obtained together to better serve SAR. We’ve got a great advantage here to help train new handlers. Lakota can show them how it’s done and can be an educational tool for others. We work with new handlers all the time and love doing that.”

Lakota has set the gold standard for Search and Rescue dogs. What’s next for them? Says Jayne, “Only God knows the answer to that, only God knows.”

Comments (1)

  • Jan James

    An informative, well-written article with good photos. This is a great tribute to Jaynie who is dedicating much of her life to service to others and to the community as a whole.

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