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Search & Rescue Dog MacGyver Joins Santa Barbara County Team

Longtime SAR member Rick Stein trained the Australian shepherd into a certified search dog

Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue’s new K-9 named MacGyver was trained by his owner and handler Rick Stein, a 15-year SBCSAR veteran. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue’s new K-9 named MacGyver was trained by his owner and handler Rick Stein, a 15-year SBCSAR veteran.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Trained rescue dogs can play a vital role when a person goes missing in the wilderness or urban environment, but it takes time and patience to do that training -- that's where dedicated Santa Barbara County volunteers step up to help. 

At first blush, MacGyver looks like a regular dog. 

But unlike other four-legged canines, the 3½-year-old Australian shepherd is the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Search and Rescue’s newest tool to help find lost people.

The red tri-colored dog is specifically trained off-lead to find live, and if necessary, deceased human scent. 

He can work without a scent article and can search in high altitudes and difficult terrain. 

MacGyver’s handler and owner, Rick Stein, is a 15-year veteran with SBCSAR.

“MacGyver can cover more ground in a shorter period of time compared to a human,” Stein said. “Time is a huge factor. He can find a person that may not be easily seen in bushes or tall grass.”

To be certified by the California Rescue Dog Association, or CARDA, as “mission ready” in area search, the pair was required to pass requirements including obedience skills, agility, sociability, night search training and helicopter loading and unloading.

Some of the testing requirements included finding a hidden subject in a 40-acre brushed and forested parcel within two hours, locating a hidden subject and a large human remains source in a 20-acre forested land within one hour, and detecting one to three hidden subjects in a 120-acre forested area with a minimum elevation gain of 200 feet within four hours.

“There are a whole slew of things the dogs and trainers have to learn,” Stein said. “We train with positive reinforcement.”

SBCSAR dogs are owned and trained by their handlers, who are volunteers and not paid for their work. 

Stein purchased the K-9 from a breeder east of Sacramento when MacGyver was seven weeks old, and the two have been constantly training since day one. 

They are now on call 24/7 and can be deployed 365 days a year.

MacGyver is a 3-1/2-year-old Australian shepherd who is a certified rescue dog and new member of the Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Search and Rescue team. Click to view larger
MacGyver is a 3-1/2-year-old Australian shepherd who is a certified rescue dog and new member of the Santa Barbara County Sheriffs Search and Rescue team.  (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

“MacGyver is a pet and part of our family, but he has a higher purpose,” Stein said.

Stein estimates spending approximately 350 hours a year training MacGyver and traveling more than 3,000 miles to attend the dog training.

Of the 106 deployable CARDA certified K-9 teams in California, Stein and MacGyver are one of seven teams that can search in terrain areas above 7,000 feet elevation. 

To receive the certification, the two had to be evaluated for three consecutive days and two nights covering 15 miles with a minimum elevation gain of 1,000 feet.  

MacGyver is training to become certified in human remains detection and is set to finish the instruction in the next couple of months.

MacGyver is Stein’s second search-and-rescue dog. His first dog, Kody, worked for 10 years before passing away when he was 14-1/2 years old, Stein said.  

The all-volunteer Search and Rescue team is a nonprofit organization and donations can be made here. 

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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