By Katrina Grant
For many people, they find their true passion in their work. However, for some, they find their true passion in volunteering their time.
This is the case for the crew of 14 volunteers at Burlington County Canine Search and Rescue. The nonprofit organization, started a little over a year ago by Nicole and Thomas Yohnnson, trains dogs to do searches and rescues.
“We go around, do meet and greets, we have some sponsors, we do bark and bow demonstrations, “ Nicole Yohnnson said. “My husband and I always wanted to have a German Shepherd that did search and rescues, and now we do.”
The organization has nine dogs that they train twice a week, and volunteers come from Shamong and Tabernacle. The dogs, which are comprised of one Border Collie, a Doberman and the rest German Shepherds, are trained from when they are puppies. The younger the dog, the easier it is to socialize and train them.
“We have a puppy that is 4 months old,” Yohnnson said.
The team at the organization trains the dogs through many hours, procedures and obstacles. Each dog takes anywhere between 1,200 and 1,600 hours to train. They drill them in normal searching and SAR tech lost searching, where a trainer goes out in the woods, near or far, and acts lost. They are also trained with bark barrels, where someone is placed in the barrel and the dog must find them.
“We also take them through an A-frame obstacle course and, of course, teach them basic obedience,” Yohnnson said.
All the trainers at the organization go through their own round of training and certifications. Everyone is CPR certified, SAR tech 3 certified, can survive in the woods and is trained in search and rescue techniques.
“We have an awesome team,” Yohnnson said. “Everyone gives an equal amount of time. They are just really amazing people.”
The first search that the team and the dogs took part in was the search in Florence for the missing girl.
“The OEM coordinator called us and asked us to assist in the search,” Yohnnson said. “We did the gridding and were in charge of the search teams. We worked very closely with the police and fire teams. We felt very privileged to be wanted for the search.”
The Yohnnsons hope to one day turn this into a full-time venture and help as many people as they possibly can.
“We would love to do trainings with the Boy Scouts and at school assemblies,” Yohnnson said. “We eat, breathe and sleep this. We all have kids, so it really puts things in perspective. You see things on TV and you want to help.”