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A male RCMP officer kneels next to a German shepherd dog.

Police dog leads rescuers to man lost in the woods

Cpl. Jason Muzzerall and his police dog Jerry led rescuers to a man lost in the Labrador woods on a cold night last January. Credit: RCMP


Cpl. Jason Muzzerall and his police service dog Jerry know first-hand how minutes count when it comes to locating a lost person.

In January, the veteran RCMP dog handler and his German shepherd found a man lost in the woods near Happy Valley-Goose Bay, N.L.

Muzzerall says while Jerry's nose led the way, many officers were responsible for finally getting the man out of waist-deep snow and to a hospital.

"It was a team effort that got him to an ambulance and the help he needed," says Muzzerall, who has been working with Jerry in Labrador for more than two years.

Their latest rescue began on a cold January evening, when Muzzerall and Jerry got the call for help. About 10 minutes later, shortly after 10 p.m., they were on the scene where an intoxicated man had run into a wooded area threatening to harm himself.

"Jerry locked onto his scent right away," says Muzzerall, who estimates about 25 per cent of the pair's service calls are mental-health related.

"The man had followed some snowmobile tracks into the woods, but then veered off into some deep snow. Jerry was pulling hard, too. He's 75 lbs and I'm 210 and I was doing everything I could to keep up," says Muzzerall.

Then, after about 25 minutes of searching in -10 C temperatures, Jerry stopped.

"At first I didn't know what he was looking at until Jerry grabbed his cap," says Muzzerall. "It was him."

The man had fallen into a tree well — a space that forms around the base of a tree as snow gathers around it — and only his head and feet were visible.

"He was lifeless," says Muzzerall, describing the initial seconds he tried to get him to move. "It flashed through my mind for a moment that he was gone."

However, the man was alive and more officers soon arrived on the scene to get him out, onto a toboggan and into a waiting ambulance about 300 metres away.

"If it wasn't for everyone working that night, we might not have found him in time," adds Muzzerall.

Police service dogs can play a vital role supporting officers in different situations.

S/Sgt. Gary Creed is the senior trainer and officer in charge of the RCMP's Police Dog Services Training Centre in Innisfail, Alta.

He has spent years training German shepherd pups, such as Jerry, to search for missing or lost people, track and apprehend criminals, find illicit drugs, detect explosives and search for evidence.

"The dog is invaluable to our search-and-rescue efforts," says Creed. "The fastest way we can find a person is to have our dogs track them."

In this case, Muzzerall believes that quickly locating the man in the snow was key to his survival.

After spending some time in hospital, the Labrador man recovered from his injuries and was released.

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