On a typical day in 2004, Patty Powell was sitting in her living room with her dog Dakota enjoying a nice evening of watching TV. She was flipping through the channels when she stopped at a show on police dog training. At the end of the program, a man came on the screen asking if anybody was interested in dog training to call the number on the screen. Interested, Powell called.
On New Years Eve she got a call back from a John Beck asking her to head to Nebraska for a week-long seminar. In April of 2005 Powell went to Nebraska and learned the basics of tracking and trailing training.
“It was the best week of my entire life,” Powell said. “I had so much fun. I had a blast.”
When she got back from Nebraska, she taught her dog Dakota the new tracking and trailing skills used to find someone with a scent already given to them.
She eventually came across a story in a magazine about search and rescue dogs – dogs that find someone without a scent given to them. She decided to call a number found in the story to get more information. She got a hold of her soon-to-be first search and rescue dog trainer, Mike Weiderhold.
“Mike was one of the best trainers on this planet,” Powell said. “He really knew what he was doing.”
Weiderhold informed her if she was interested in training she should get a Malinios breed dog because of their energetic and persistent attitude. On July 6, 2006 a Belgium Malinios named Contessa, was born. That Labor Day weekend, Contessa – now known as Tess – found a new home with Powell.
“I didn’t pick Tess, Tess picked me,” Powell said. “When I went to go see the dogs, Tess kept running after me and trying to climb over the little wall to get to me. I thought that was pretty cool.”
After training Powell and Tess for awhile, Weiderhold told her about Stacy Shaver, another dog trainer who has been training for seven years and has trained over 20 dogs. Shaver lived closer to Powell and they now get along very well.
“Oh I instantly liked her,” Powell said. “She was awesome.”
Shaver then began to train Powell for the many tests and obstacles that she will have to go through.
“First of all, its not a hobby, it’s a job. It’s very time consuming,” Shaver says to all her first trainees. “You are out in all kinds of weather. There is heat, rain, snow, ticks, poison ivy, snakes, skunks, and so much more.”
For a dog to become a certified wilderness search and rescue dog, the trainer and their dog have to pass many tests. The tests usually consist of finding a certain amount of people in a certain amount of time in 20-160 acres of wilderness, daytime or nighttime in many different kinds of weather and terrain.
“The first time you go outside at night, it’s just you and your dog, pitch black, new territory, 40 acres,” Shaver said. “That is the test that really bonds you with your dog. You realize that they are your partner. You find out how smart dogs really are.”
Powell and Tess now work with the St. Charles County Search and Rescue (SCCSRR) along with Shaver, firefighter Kristi Thurman with her dog Coco, Terry Knipp with his dog Chrissy and Tom and Jen Rausher with their dog Nicka.
“We all are good friends,” Thurman said. “We are more than a team, we are a family. We protect and support each other.”
They all volunteer to train these dogs so that maybe one day they could actually help someone.
“Dog training is very important,” Shaver said. “Wondering if their loved one is dead or alive … these are things that parents go through and you just want to help. When you have a dog that can bring closure to them, it really does make a difference.”
Powell and Tess have now been working together for over two years. They have been through a lot together and have had what Powell considers a very successful year. Tess is now certified in SCCSRR wilderness and the National Association for search and rescue Area Search I, meaning Tess can be used for any missing person in a wilderness environment. Tess is currently training for Human Remains Detection.
“People say that Tess is Brilliant,” Powell said. “It is utterly amazing what these dogs do.”
Pam Seyer, a very proud friend of Powell says that this experience has changed Powell into a caring, disciplined, and sharing person.
“I don’t see her dropping this anytime soon,” Seyer said. “Not until at least she is in a walker.”
Powell agrees that she isn’t going to stop anytime soon. She loves her dogs and loves seeing them work.
“I can be so dead tired and having the worse possible day but when I am asked to train I forget about everything and train,” Powell said. “It’s the neatest experience.”