When emergency strikes, La Plata County Search and Rescue K-9s have to be as prepared as their commanders.
So two weeks ago, Boy Scout Troop 538 spent a Saturday building a six-obstacle training course for the agency’s K-9 team, a project led by Eagle Scout hopeful Lukas Adamski, 16.
“We searched the internet for interesting projects, and my dad found one for a search-and-rescue team asking for an Eagle Scout to build a training course for them,” Adamski said. “We called the local one, and that was something they really wanted.”
Designed with the agency’s input, about 30 volunteers built the course in half a day at the “Rescue Ranch” on the corner of 32nd Street and East Animas Road (County Road 250). Local businesses and organizations, including Canyon Construction and La Plata Electric Association, donated building materials.
As a self-funded organization, Search and Rescue couldn’t afford the luxury of a training course for K-9s.
“We had wanted an agility course for quite some time, and it will certainly benefit our K-9 team, and by extension, La Plata County,” said Katie Steelman, Search and Rescue’s K-9 team leader. “When you have wilderness search dogs, they need to develop confidence and balance using their feet independently. They could encounter situations in the wilderness that call upon those skills, and the obstacles help develop that.”
The course includes a seesaw, elevated plank, tunnel and other structures that simulate situations rescue dogs might encounter in the backcountry, such as searching a culvert or crossing a creek on a log.
“The goal of the course is to help the dogs get familiar with different terrains and not be nervous while doing it,” Adamski said. “I knew it could possibly help save lives in the end. They’ll be better prepared for difficult stuff. That was one of the best parts.”
Adamski, fellow scouts and volunteers collectively invested about 250 hours.
Search and Rescue has four K-9s as well as a puppy under evaluation to join the team. Steelman said future K-9s will be started on the course as puppies.
And Adamski expects to get his Eagle Scout badge by spring 2017.
“One of the main goals of an Eagle Scout project is to challenge the Eagle candidate with a project he’s to manage,” Troop 538 Scoutmaster Jeff Mason said. “It’s not just coming up with one and pitching it, but organizing it, getting the materials and handling the scope of the project. That’s typically a pretty big challenge.”