"The quicker you are to find the person the more likely you are to have a happy ending," said Marshia Morton, founder of the Scott County Search and Rescue K-9 Unit.
According to the National Association of Search and Rescue, "one canine unit is the equivalent of 20 ground searchers," Morton said.
The Scott County Search and Rescue K-9 Unit is an all-volunteer group dedicated to helping recover missing loved ones and aid in disaster recoveries throughout the region.
"The unit was first established in the first part of November," Morton said.
Morton explained she was part of a canine search and rescue group in Tennessee before moving here in June. "I saw there was a need for the group to be formed," she said. "Before we were established the closest search team was over two hours away."
The unit is comprised of "a dedicated, elite group of volunteers," Morton said, who perform well because they "are all very dedicated to the good of the team as a whole."
In addition to Morton and Maggie, her German Shepherd, key members on the unit include: Jay Cassout and his black Lab, Baby; Jeri Keller and her Doberman, Charlie; Floyd Williams and his Rottweiler, Baby; Bobby Cassout and her chocolate Lab, Todd; Marion Stricker, his daughter Julie and their black lab, Duke; and Amber Glenn and her black Lab, Keno.
"There's about 15 of us total - seven dogs and about 15 people at this time," Morton said.
While the dogs and their handlers are important, "you've got to have support people or a dog isn't as effective," Morton said. "You need to have one handler and two ground support in a team to be as effective as you should be."
About 100 members of the community were introduced to the unit Tuesday at Missouri Delta Medical Center where an "open public demonstration" of urban searches was held "to make the community more aware of our existence, and the fact that we have some dogs who are now trained and ready to be of service," Morton said.
Three of the dogs Morton described as "really sharp," with the others making nice progress. "When the dogs become problem solvers, they're pretty well ready," she said, although she cautioned "it requires continuous training to keep them sharp."
While additional volunteers are always welcome, they should join being "fully aware of the time factor involved in being part of this group," Morton said.
"Time is the biggest factor in it," she said. "We train anywhere from once to three times per week. And that's every week."
Some of the training involves less-than-pleasant circumstances. The teams will begin water search training this summer, for example.
"We have done cadaver work in salvage yards," Morton said. "We try to come up with different situations all the time."
While live searches have the potential for the happiest results, "the cadaver work is very important too - it gives the family closure," Morton said.
Training locations are varied to prepare the teams for searches in conditions ranging "anywhere from urban to wilderness," Morton said. Rubble piles are often used to simulate damage from earthquakes or tornadoes.
"We set standards for ourselves," Morton said. Human members are certified in CPR and First Aid, trained in the use of maps and compasses.
"We are all the time being involved in various seminars to make us more effective searchers," Morton said. "We also have state licenses in radio communications."
For those who would like to help but can't devote that much time, there are other ways to help the team such as donations which the unit uses "for training materials," Morton said. "We also provide educational programs free of charge for nursing homes and schools K-2."
For more information about the Scott County Search and Rescue K-9 Unit, write the Scott County Emergency Operations Center, Attn. K9 Unit, 2282 US Highway 61, Oran, MO 63771 or call 573-2652-2070.