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After 12 Years, Search & Rescue Dog Retires in a Blaze of Glory

Highly trained canine has assisted in 81 searches in his career, will be followed by a new search puppy

Blaze, a longtime key member of the Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue team, formally entered retirement Saturday at a private ceremony on a ranch where he and handler Juanita Smith regularly trained.

The California Rescue Dog Association–certified dog was surrounded by other search dogs, dog handlers, Search & Rescue team members, and Sheriff’s Department personnel as they paid tribute to his nine years of service.

“I would like to say that I trained Blaze, but in reality, he trained me,” Smith said. “There were times on the trail that I would give a little back pressure on the lead and ask Blaze if he was sure; he would look back at me and with his body language say, ‘Trust me, I got it,’ ... and he would be right.”

Over the past 12 years, Blaze assisted on 81 searches, including 52 in-county and 29 out-of-county searches.

Among his local career highlights were a 2005 North County search for a missing motorcyclist and a 2010 backcountry search for a missing swimmer last seen at the White Rock Campground.

Serving out-of-county, Smith and Blaze were a part of the 2009 Malibu Creek State Park search for Mitrice Richardson and the 2010 San Diego search for missing teenager Chelsea King.

In total, Blaze has worked 533 hours, spanning 12,199 travel miles — not including his regular trainings.

Blaze is Smith’s second working dog. A former K-9 handler with the Santa Barbara Police Department, Smith worked with Patrol K-9 Guss for five years, and had several criminal apprehensions credited to their career.

A new border collie puppy, Caper, is in training to be CARDA-certified mission-ready as a human-remains detection dog.

Humans drop about 40,000 skin cells per minute by evaporated perspiration, respiratory gases or decomposition gases released by bacterial action on skin or tissues, and every human produces a distinctive and different odor.

Trailing dogs are trained in scent discrimination. When given an uncontaminated scent article from the missing person, a properly trained trailing dog can follow the isolated scent of that missing person.

CARDA is the country’s largest search dog group, setting the gold standard for search dog requirements. Certified teams are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

The all-volunteer Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.  Click here for more information on Search & Rescue, or call 805.967.0253. Click here to make an online donation to help ensure the community has highly trained and qualified search dogs available to respond to local search and rescue emergencies.

— Valerie Walston is the public information officer for Santa Barbara County Search & Rescue.

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