Sheriff’s search and rescue team gets new four-legged member

The Santa Barbara County sheriff’s search and rescue team’s newest tool to help find lost and missing people is equipped with four legs and a wet nose.

MacGyver, a 3 1/2-year-old Australian shepherd specifically trained to find live and deceased human scent, has joined the department’s search and rescue team.

He and his handler, Rick Stein, were recently certified by the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) as “mission ready in area search.” MacGyver can generally find human scent without a scent article, and also is able to search in high altitudes and difficult terrain, according to a spokeswoman.

The dog and Stein, a 15-year search and rescue team member veteran, have spent the last three-plus years training together and are only one of seven Type 1 certified CARDA deployable teams in California, meaning they can search in terrain in areas above 7,000 feet elevation.

There are only 106 deployable CARDA certified K-9 teams in the state.

To be certified by CARDA as “mission ready in area search,” the pair needed to complete a number of skills, which required extensive testing in obedience, agility, sociability, helicopter loading and unloading and night search training.

Testing included finding a hidden subject in a 40-acre brushed/forested parcel within two hours, finding a hidden subject and a large human remains source in a 20-acre forested/brushed parcel within an hour, and finding one to three hidden subjects in a 120-acre forested/brushed parcel with a minimum elevation gain of 200 feet within four hours, the spokeswoman said.  

Stein said having a K-9 search team with the type of experience that he and MacGyver bring to the table is vital for Santa Barbara County. 

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“Time is critical when you are looking for a lost or missing person, and now we don’t have to wait for an outside agency to assist with a K-9,” Stein said. “We can immediately start searching with our K-9. We are also available for mutual aid as a K-9 team.”

Stein purchased MacGyver from a breeder east of Sacramento when he was just 7 weeks old and the pair have been training together ever since. MacGyver is Stein’s second search and rescue K-9. His first dog, Kody, worked for 10 years and died when he was 14 1/2. Stein is a volunteer and not paid for his work.

MacGyver is currently training to become certified in human remains detection and is set to complete the training in the next couple of months, the spokeswoman said. 

There are five K-9 teams associated with the sheriff’s search and rescue team. For more information, visit www.sbcsar.net.

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