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Gallatin Sheriff Search and Rescue calls on the rise

A look into K9 units duties and responses to emergencies
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Posted at 9:20 AM, Aug 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-05 11:34:44-04

BOZEMAN — Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue are noticing a continued influx in reports and calls for their assistance. For the past three years, reports to the search and rescue team have lingered around 105, give or take a few calls year-to-year.

Gallatin Sheriff Search and Rescue calls on the rise

In 2020, that number jumped to 115 calls, including over 40 searches, nearly 70 rescues, and other instances. Why now? It may be a case of "cabin fever," Captain Scott Secor said.

Secor is the commander of the Gallatin County Sheriff Search and Rescue division. Serving for more than a decade, Secor works closely with volunteers as well as overseeing the operations of search and rescue.

“If you’re going to try something new, go with someone that’s more experienced or take it easy to begin with…we’re already ahead (in receiving calls) of where we were last year,” Secor said.

The division has received 90 calls since the first of the year, meaning they could potentially have more calls this year, compared to 2020, Secor said. In this line of work, it is difficult to predict what could happen moving forward, there could be a plateau in calls or a spike come winter, Secor said.

At the end of the day, Secor and hundreds of volunteers can leave knowing that they are well-prepared and equipped to handle the possibility of incoming emergencies.

“It is such an honor to be able to do it because it is such a worthwhile endeavor for the sheriff’s office and the citizens of Gallatin County. I’m one of those rare people that get to work every day smiling and happy,” Secor said.

There are 200 volunteers for the division of search and rescue, ready and able to act on a moment's notice to help a stranger. Not to mention, the state of the person, situation, or history is unknown. In fact, there is a waiting list to be trained as a ‘SAR Volunteer’.

One sector of volunteers is the K-9 Team, made up of seven dog handlers and a pack of well-trained dogs.

Bonnie Whitman is a dog handler to her German Shepherd ‘Sabre’. As a career, Whitman has been involved with the Park Services and Emergency Services, including fire, EMS, law enforcement, search and rescue, which ultimately led her to work with dogs.

As a volunteer dog handler, Whitman trains her K9 partner to respond to rescue and recovery missions (in snow or heat), uncover evidence, and a multitude of other jobs.

“We get paged, and respond to the potential party and gather all the information and gear we think we might need- we really don’t know. I always bring my dog, but I may not need him for that search, but we might,” Whitman said, “The dogs are most effective in the very beginning before the area is completely contaminated.”

Through training, communication, and confidence both handler and dog can aid in the rescue or recovery of a person. Teamwork is also a large factor in K9 search and rescue. Understanding where your fellow handlers are, who is flanking where, and if a dog is picking up a scent to send a second to verify, helps the search immensely, Whitman said.

Although there is a waiting period to volunteer for the Search and Rescue team at large, the K9 Team is willing to host new ‘subjects’ for their dogs to track.