Four years ago, when Airdrie resident Maria Ilioviciu welcomed her rescue dog Cabella into her life, she assumed Cabella would prefer the easy-going life of a couch dog who enjoyed long naps. However, it turned out Cabella was like the energizer bunny, well dog, in this case. As Ilioviciu wondered what she could do to keep up with her dog, a local search and rescue team had that answer. 

"I knew that she needed more than just kind of a run out in the park. She needed to use her brain. She's a smart dog, and she definitely has a good nose on her and she loves, loves, loves people."

She and Cabella would train with the search and rescue team for a couple of years before Ilioviciu decided she wanted to branch out on her own. Next week, on September 24, The Search And Rescue Dog Association Of Canada (SARDAC) which Ilioviciu heads, is beginning its recruitment/assessment day.  

For Ilioviciu it is a labour of love that she has sacrificed much time and finances for. Both she and Cabella train every day and have also flown down to the United States for seminars. 

"There's a lot involved, but it's definitely worth it to see your dogs do what they're supposed to do, and hopefully one day help other people. That's the end goal; to help our community," she said. 

Airdrionian Maria Ilioviciu is encouraging dog owners and their furry companions to consider signing up for a new K-9 search and rescue team she is putting together. (Photo provided by Maria Ilioviciu)Airdrionian Maria Ilioviciu is encouraging dog owners and their furry companions to consider signing up for a new K-9 search and rescue team she is putting together. (Photo provided by Maria Ilioviciu)

She added that there is both a physical and mental aspect to search and rescue dog teams and their owners. While there is a physical component to the work, there is also a mental one. Ilioviciu said that because all the work is volunteer work with long hours, one has to be dedicated not only to the goals of search and rescue but also to the bonds between owner and dog.  

For the time being, she is hoping to build up a team that will work closely with local policing agencies in the area, though she underlined that there are different types of search and rescue dogs. At present, Ilioviciu is focusing on live find dogs rather than cadaver dogs and dogs that will do air-scenting rather than tracking. All the dogs accepted into the program will be certified through various organizations.  

"Our dogs are air scenting dogs, where we send them off leash, and they have to find [someone] through the scents that are being carried by the wind and they have to find the person that way," Ilioviciu said. "There's a lot of science behind it, but never really shown. I think a lot of times on T.V., they just let the dog loose and that's it. They say that one dog is the equivalent of 50 humans in search and rescue." 

While this is the first time Ilioviciu has focused her recruitment on civilians who are interested in search and rescue, she noted that quite a few people have reached out and she is optimistic about assembling her team, though she continued to encourage more people to sign up. 

"Anybody who thinks that their dog might do well in search and rescue is welcome to come out. We'll do a little quick assessment with the dog to see if the dog has the drive that we're looking for. It's not just about the dog, it's about the dog and the handler behind them." 

She added that SARDAC is also always looking for spaces to practice and said that anyone who may have a swath of land that they would be willing to lend to the teams, would be part of helping the search and rescue teams immensely. However, if you don't have swaths of land, you can always help by making a monetary donation.  

"Any kind of land that somebody is willing to lend us, especially if it has a lot of trees, that's better because we'll most likely be being sent out in the forest. It's surprisingly difficult to try to find a place to search that has a big property that we can run our dogs on. So, if anybody has a piece of land that they're willing to let us borrow, we'd be more than happy are more than appreciative for that." 

It can take up to two years for a dog to officially be certified as a search and rescue K-9 and in November, it will be Cabella's turn to make things official. During her certification Cabella will be tasked with searching for a terrain between 80 - 100 acres. Ilioviciu, though, is optimistic that Cabella will pass her certification, so she can show the world what the dynamic duo is capable of. But the most pertinent question is... what kinds of treats does the spunky 3-year-old dog receive for a job well done? 

"She loves freeze-dried liver treats, so, that's what she gets when she finds what she is tasked to find." 

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