Saanich’s Jessica Tuomela and her four-year-old golden retriever Lucy are a dynamic search and rescue duo.
Last year the Paralympic triathlete, who is blind, decided to try and train a dog for discriminate scent trailing, a method of search and rescue that involves collecting sample scents from missing persons to help find them.
“The dog is essentially in the driver’s seat and I am an active passenger, we follow her nose wherever she thinks the person’s scent is most strong,” says Tuomela.
“These dogs can even discriminate between identical twins because they don’t smell the same.”
To help with the training, Tuomela found Scent Evidence K-9, which is run by former FBI agent Paul Coley. The Tallahassee Florida-based centre specializes in scent discriminate trailing and has also developed a scent preservation swab kit to help aid rescues.
Tuomela’s call came as a bit of a surprise for Coley.
“She cold called me and we were doing a seminar here in Tallahassee and at first I was trying to process how I could train her,” says Coley.
“Then she said to me very clearly ‘I want you to remember that I rely on my dogs to survive everyday’ and ‘I said I’m in!'”
After a year of training Tuomela and Lucy put all of their work into practice when one of Tuomela’s elderly neighbours went missing last Wednesday. Fortunately for the pair, she had a scent preservation kit.
“They knew that their family member was living with memory loss and so they got a kit and so I go the message that they were needing help,” says Tuomela.
“Lucy and I went out, I presented her with the woman’s scent and off we went.”
It took 40 minutes to find the woman who had been wandering around Elk Lake for two hours. The successful rescue was a rewarding experience for both Tuomela and Coley.
“There’s no feeling like bringing someone home after they’ve been lost,” says Coley.
“I’ve got goosebumps, there’s no way to describe what that feels like,” says Tuomela.
Tuomela hopes that the experience leads to more people getting scent preservation kits here on the Island.
For more information about the kits, you can visit the True North Canine website.