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Monday, February 5, 2001

By Anthony Sommer, Star-Bulletin
Werner Taniguchi and Ipo were the stars of the Hawaii Search
Dog Association's first demonstration of their dogs' ability to find
lost hikers. The six volunteers and their dogs, all from Kauai,
began rescue training a year and a half ago. It's hard work
for the humans, but the dogs appear convinced it's fun.

Rescue canines
impress officials
on Garden Isle

The dogs can be used to locate
lost hikers in Kauai's
dense areas

By Anthony Sommer

LIHUE -- Six humans and six dogs who have been training as volunteer rescue teams for the past year and a half put on their first demonstration for Kauai police and fire officials last week.

The officials were impressed.

The dogs are trained to search a wide area and, when they have found someone, to return to their handler and lead the handler to the victim.

By the time the dogs had shown off their abilities, both departments had begun setting up permanent agreements with the fledgling Hawaii Search Dog Association. The six dogs -- who are working toward certification by the California Rescue Dog Association -- are the only rescue dogs in Hawaii.

Because of its extremely rugged terrain, more searches for lost hikers are conducted on Kauai than on any other island. Kauai averages 75 lost hikers every year.

Despite the extensive use of helicopters, some hikers are never located because of the dense jungle in many areas.

A chance meeting between Ricko Taniguchi, who then taught dog obedience classes, and rescue dog instructor Laura Rathke of Redding, Calif., whose sister Maka lives in Princeville, led to tryouts in September 1999. Twenty-five owners brought their dogs.

Six made the final cut and had the time to participate in training.

"This isn't a hobby," said Taniguchi. "There are four or five training sessions a week and they last up to two and a half hours each."

All of the dogs started out as family pets and still are.

The dogs hunt by air scent rather than ground scent. They are taught to find people who are upright and moving as well as people on the ground, hidden or dead.

Taniguchi and her husband, Werner, each train Rottweilers.

Jim and Azi Turturichi have a pair of yellow Labradors.

Sam Pratt has a golden retriever and his wife Robin has a black Labrador.

The handlers are hoping to have their dogs ready for pre-certification trials in March.

Temperament rather than breed type is most important, although the dogs must be athletic enough to search in difficult terrain.

While it is hard work for the humans, the dogs are convinced that it's fun. None of the dogs is allowed toys or treats at home. But when they conduct a successful search, the treats and toys are brought out in the field.

Property owners all over the island have made their land available for training, allowing the dogs to work in a variety of conditions.

Ricko Taniguchi said a major need is to give the dogs experience riding in helicopters.

"We can't have them freaking out the first time they have to be flown into a remote area," she told Police Chief George Freitas.

Freitas immediately offered them rides whenever the helicopter, which is owned by a private contractor, is being used for drug surveillance.

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