We had to meet ready to go at 7.00 am Sunday morning to continue our search work. Salvador was our site again but this time on the roof.
There was no easy way to get up on the roof, even for a large dog like Jochen. In addition there were also some safety concerns. Gaspard helped me get Jochen up on the roof and as he is used to this kind of handling, he was fine. I left him with Gaspard who looked so proud to be kneeling beside this very handsome German Shepherd!
Arielle took me over the whole of the roof space so that I would be clear about the dangers. As you can see in the photo, there is no safety fencing whatsoever. People are expected to be sensible. Funnily enough, they are. Given the information, we Initially had to search one half of the roof space first. There is actually a gap between the two roof halves and some of the pancake layers were designated as unstable. This meant that the dogs were not to go into that area. People were placed to ensure canine safety.
I collected Jochen from Gaspard and sent him to work. He took up scent very quickly but went into the 'unsafe' area before I could stop him. He came back very quickly however has he had run out of scent and it was pointless to continue. He settled on an area and alerted very quickly and strongly. It was very quick and very good work confirmed by the other two dogs.
His next assignment was to search that area again but to try and pinpoint on the roof more directly rather than in the space below the roof. This is where Jochen really showed his capacity for fine, slow, concentrated work. It was just beautiful. He just does this type of work without any prompting, as if he knows when he can go faster and do a hasty search and when a fine search is appropriate.
He worked so carefully with such concentration, following the wind and checking the whole of that half of the roof. He got scent out of a couple of tiny cracks and then concentrated on some small rubble. He started to move it with his nose and foot and uncovered a small hole. He then did a lovely alert. Was I proud? Now that is a dumb question! His find was confirmed and Gaspard came in with his tech search equipment. This was actually the same person as Jochen had found in the previous search but this time found on the roof and a few meters from his initial find. Great stuff.
His last search on Salvador was to search the roof of the second half. He initially went over it quite quickly, isolated a few points of interest and then settled into his fine, slow search again. How does he know when to do this? It was interesting to observe him working because he work clearly indicated what the wind direction was doing. When he does a fine search, he does not commit to a scent source straight away. He has to convince himself that THIS is the place where the most scent is emerging from before he will alert, which he finally did. He had quite a few people watching him who liked what they saw.
I must say though that when he went right to the edge of the roof at times just to check, my heart was in my mouth. I had visions of him jumping or falling off. Tania laughed at me saying that he is so focused and so slow in his fine search that he is no danger of doing anything stupid. She is right of course but hey....this is my dog!!!
We all then had to decamp and move to a site nick-named 'Mexico'. Here the information was such that we could only work in the tunnel system, and what a tunnel system it is. Arielle had some 'fun' as equipe leader trying to get some sensible and useful information out of the site manager who was playing hard to get. In fact there was some great role playing all round.
In the end there was no other option. Our dogs had to go down into a shallow shaft and into the tunnelling system. Going down the shaft was no problem for Winja, Betsy was not a happy camper and Jochen at first said that he did not think that he could fit or that he actually wanted to. However, when it was his turn, and with some help, he managed it and after that it became easier each time. He jumped out without assistance.
There are kilometres of tunnels some on about three different levels so it is easy to create some very complex search exercises that really make an equipe leader and dog and handler think. This exercise was a beauty. Once in the shaft, the tunnel was on the left and almost immediately again on the left, it took a steep slope down with a low roof space into the dark. It takes a sound dog to be able to manage these challenges.
Once down the slope, the tunnel turned right. About half way down this tunnel was a lot of rubble and timber and that is where Jochen alerted quickly and well. However he also showed interest at another tunnel that was just off to the left of the alert.
After that figurant was removed and the tunnel allowed to air for a while, the dogs were brought in again. Jochen did some very fine 'seaming' along the joints of the tunnel going a long way into the tunnel. However he did not alert and we felt that he was picking up residual scent. Arielle asked me to check the tunnel to the left again and he certainly showed interest but again did not alert.
After a lot of questioning and pondering with the site manager still being 'difficult' Arielle asked if the rubble in the tunnel to the left could be removed. He finally agreed to that and Jochen was again brought in to check it out. He went straight into that now open tunnel to the end, disappeared to the left and checked out a pile of stuff there, turned to the right where there was more of the same, went back to the left and alerted so well. YES, we had the final figurant just before 12.00 pm. Both Winja and Betsy confirmed his alert. What a super, super morning of searching and working within such a great equipe.
Over the almost 48 hours, our equipe did 15 searches. All the dogs worked so well and Jochen and I integrated into the equipe and the work seamlessly and without a hitch. Arielle was excellent as an equipe leader even though she is still in training and this exercise was part of her journey in becoming a fully fledged equipe leader.
Effectively, we were all awake and on the go for 36 hours, taking cat-naps whenever we could to get by. We did not get a night's sleep until Saturday evening.
My beautiful dog went down into cellars, shafts, up onto the top of the rubble site nicknamed 'Salvador', he crawled into tunnels and never missed a beat. The other two dogs were just as good, but this blog is about Jochen's journey so naturally he features. His fine search was a star performance, particularly as he did it automatically without me having to ask him to do so. He just seemed to know. They were delighted with his concentration, focus and slow, careful work in the fine search. It was the best.
How I wish we had the facilities, enough people with the expertise and people who matter with sufficient interest in Australia to conduct something similar if not on the same scale. Most of all I so wish that the value of the equipe system be fully understood and accepted as the most sensible, most professional way of deploying dog teams and tech search. For this to happen, I believe it would require a person of sufficient rank to live with an equipe for the duration of such an exercise to really get to understand the all-important role of the equipe leader and how this person is instrumental in shaping the equipe and its efficiency, and to fully understand how crucial dogs are to the success of a task force.