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Interview with K9 Search and Rescue Specialist Robin Habeger

Q: Can you tell a little about yourself and how you got involved with K9 search and rescue?
A: I started in SAR with my first dog, Talyn because he needed a job. It was either buy sheep or find something else to do since he’s a border collie. I found a local SAR team in my area and started training with them. It went from a ‘hobby’ to a passion and I now have three dogs, all either certified or in training for different types of SAR work.

Q: What local and regional organizations call out your K9 team for assistance?
A: STAR 1 Search and Rescue, Ames IA
Iowa Task Force 1 ñ Cedar Rapids, Cedar Rapids IA
Central Iowa Underwater Search and Rescue, Polk County IA
Nebraska Task Force 1 ñ FEMA team from Lincoln NE
I usually respond through one of these agencies and do not self deploy to any searches. If requested as a single resource the search must be approved and managed by law enforcement.

Q: How many other K9 teams are there in Iowa?
A: I would guess under 25 certified K9 teams (handler and K9)

Q: How often is your team called out to assist in search and rescue efforts?
A: Anywhere from 6-20 times per year for all the teams combined.

Q: What kinds of rescue efforts have you personally been involved in?
A: Missing persons (usually involved in some sort of criminal case), drowning, natural disasters (tornados, floods), lost persons

Q: What kind of personal time is commitment is required? Are you on call all the time?
A: Yes, we are pretty much on call all the time. However, since most of the teams are ‘volunteers’ I just notify the team of my availability. Most of us have a paging system through our cell phones that allows dispatch to reach us for notification of searches.

Q: There must be a special bond that you form with other members of your team? Can you describe it?
A: Yes there is, you create a long lasting but honest relationship with your team members. Someone’s life may be at stake when you deploy with your dog so you not only have to keep it ‘real’ for yourself, but you have to have the type of relationship with your team members that you keep it real for each other. Some of my best and longest lasting friendships have come through SAR…and are not only with my teammates but with others involved in SAR all over the nation,

Q: What kind of training is required to become a K9 team member? Is there a certification process that new members need to go through?
A: You need to get your ground searcher certification first and learn how to navigate with a map and compass in the field prior to getting a dog. The last thing we want to do is have to go search for someone who is supposed to be out searching for our missing subject. On top of that, you have to have the right dog and spend time training them in obedience and scent work for search and rescue. It’s like having a part time job on top of everything else.
Yes, there is a certification process you go through and all of the agencies I deploy with only recognize national level standards so you have to spend your time and money traveling and certifying with appropriate certifying bodies. Most people spend between $5K and $10K of their own money each year training and certifying their dogs. Each handler also has to maintain their own education on top of training their dog.|

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