With every great dog there are great owners who put love and devotion into their animals. This is a story and dedication not only to Rudy, a German Shepherd with the North Alabama Search and Rescue team, but also his parents, Len and Terri.
Len and Terri married in 1993 and got a golden retriever, Rocky, for a family dog and as life would have it, Terri and Len moved in 2003 to a large property where a dog could roam. It was here that they found a purpose and where a dream would become reality. Terri had always wanted a female German Shepherd. A co-worker mentioned a local canine search and rescue group where she had several friends that were SAR volunteers. Terri picked Brandi up in September 2003 and contacted the local group. After their first practice with them, Terri was hooked on training for search and rescue and joined NASDA.
In 2005, Rocky started going into kidney failure and because Brandi had always had a companion, Terri began looking for another dog that would work well with Brandi and would love being a search and rescue dog. Terri started looking for a male german shepherd and made it a point to look for a working dog...with some help from a former police K9 handler and SAR volunteer, she found a reputable breeder in Tennessee. Rudy was born in March of 2005 and Rocky passed away in February of 2005. Brandi was left by herself for a month before Rudy came into her life.
Len and Terri went to Tennessee for the puppy evaluations, there were 2 boys and 5 girls and she knew she wanted a working dog for the search and rescue. The 2 boys were very different from each other, one was huge and slow and laid back, the other boy was a happy, crazy, ‘yappy’ puppy. And Len said “I want that one”. Len knew what this ball of energy needed to be a happy dog was a job. But before we talk about Rudy, let me tell you the story of how Rudy came into the life of his amazing parents Terri and Len.
Rudy was named after the 1st season of Survivor, former marine Rudy Boesch, he was tough. Rudy was a handful and the couple knew he is going to have to have a job whether it is agility, search etc. Terri started taking him to practice with Brandi, who was still in training (training for certification can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 years to ensure both canine and handler are ready for testing).
In the fall of 2005 Len’s work situation changed and he became available on weekends, with Len’s availability training shifted to a more active role. Rudy began with 'puppy runaways' where the person runs away from the puppy carrying a toy and encouraging the puppy to chase them while the handler holds the leash. The subject ducks behind a bush a tree and the puppy is let go to run after them and is rewarded when he gets to the subject. Next, Rudy progressed to a "blind problem," where the puppy does not see the person run away but is put in a position to catch the person's scent on the wind. Rudy and Len certified in live area search a year later and then cadaver/human remains detection the following year.
While Rudy got lots of practice and lots of calls the most memorable was in 2012. Terri was on her way to work and got the call there was a missing 72 year old woman, Marilyn Dabbs.
Marilyn and her friend went hiking on a Sunday afternoon in February in Bankhead Forest in Lawrence County, the trail goes down a ravine to a creek with nice rock formations. Marilyn was an experienced caver and caved all her life and her companion also hiked all the time. At some point he looked back and realized she wasn’t with him. So he sat down and waited. Eventually he walked back up the trail to get a cell signal. The guy was an experienced hiker as well and used his flagging tape where the last place he was so she’d know where he was and she could follow.
When it started getting dark he called for helped. Search was conducted all night long. The next morning, NASDA was called in to help with the search. Len and Rudy were onsite first and went down the trail to the last point she was seen. "We had gone about 1/2 mile down the trail, no cell service, radios weren’t working and Rudy started picking up scent, he was bouncing back and forth, his tail was up, his body language gave the indication there was something out there. Rudy was bouncing and bouncing and goes across the creek and there was a lady hanging on the side of the ravine trying to climb out. We yelled her name and responded “yep”. This 72 year old was climbing up the ravine! We pulled Rudy back and went to her and by the time we got to her she had climbed up the ravine. “I’m a little thirsty and a little cold” Rudy was ecstatic and this was his first live find!"
Rudy was working in January 2015 when he got sick, one of his legs swelling unexpectedly. A trip to the vet on Monday produced no real answers, no bite, no puncture wounds. A few days later he was no better and he appeared to have an infection. They did a biopsy because his prostate was the “size of Rhode Island” and turned out to be cancer. Lost him within 2 weeks. He was 9 years old, almost 10 years old and was just in pain.
Terri had this to say “Rudy loved to work, when we’d get to practice Rudy would start barking, he was so excited. On Saturday morning as soon as I put my pants and boats on they know its time to work and Rudy would start running around the house barking from excitement.”
Terri and Len's love of animals and mankind is part of their everyday life. They raise these amazing animals "so that other's may live", that is the NASAR motto.
They practice every Saturday Sept- May, rain or shine, starting early in the morning and finishing mid-day, depending on. When the cold weather sets in they start at 8am and finish when we finish 11,12 or 2 depending on what kind of problems they work. Most of the practices are in the Huntsville area some in Guntersville. In the summer, practice moves to a weeknight where they work on smaller, more specific problems like scent discrimination work.
f you are interested in becoming a handler with the North Alabama Search Dog Association, or would simply like to come out and act as a subject during training, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
North Alabama Search Dog Association is funded solely by donations and does not received any city or state funding. Their motto “So That Others May Live”. NASDA Donations can be made using the Donate button at www.nasdak9.org on at the pinned Fundraiser post in our Facebook Group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/158517997504341/
NASDA is a 501 (c) (3) organization, all contributions are tax-deductible (EIN No.: 56-2344207).
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