Prior to the late 1980’s K9 Search and Rescue in Ventura County consisted of a loose affiliation of a few handlers who trained dogs and were all volunteer members of a number of different county search and rescue units. In 1988 a handful of these handlers, with strong support from Sheriff Sergeant Earl Matthews, formed a separate K9 unit, known today as Ventura County Sheriff’s K9 Search and Rescue. The handlers typically got together once a week to train the dogs and also met one full day each month for handler training.
The team worked hard but grew very slowly during the 1990’s. In the year 2000 a number of dramatic changes began to take hold which strengthened the unit considerably. The Sheriff’s Department increased its support for the unit and considerable work was done to improve integration with Ventura County’s
three top ranked mountain teams. The internet has allowed the K9 search and rescue community to collaborate on a nation wide scale. The Ventura County Sheriff's K9 SAR team has seen a shift in focus to the incorporation of professional training methods and resources derived through various local and national contacts. Modern training techniques have been adopted through exposure to and often affiliation with some of the top training organizations in the United States. These include The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, The Southern California Bloodhound Handlers Coalition, Tactical Tracking Teams, The National Association for Search and Rescue, and The Institute for Canine Forensics to name a few. Work also continues to be done to cultivate relationships with other K9 units outside of Ventura County.
In the 911 disaster of 2001 and again in the hurricane Katrina disaster of 2005 approximately one third of the team was deployed as part of a FEMA task force. Also in 2001, following leads developed by the mountain teams, one of our K9’s capped a one month county wide search by locating the body of murder and rape victim, Megan Barroso. More recently team members have responded to the disaster at La Conchita, the Amtrak train wreck and the Sylmar fire.
The unit still gets together at various locations throughout Ventura County to train once every week. Handlers also dedicate considerable effort and their own funds to attend professional training workshops throughout California and the United States. All Ventura County K9 team members are volunteers and are not compensated for their work. Nevertheless, every handler is dedicated to providing a consistent and thoroughly professional response to the needs of Ventura County residents and outlying communities.
Area Search dogs are trained to find any human scent in the area. Although not required, scent articles can be of assistance to area search dogs. Area search dogs work most frequently off-leash and can cover large areas.
Cadaver dogs (HRD) are trained in the location of human decomposition: tissue, blood, bones, teeth etc. Some HRD dogs are trained in Historical HRD… being bones over 50 years old. One HRD K9 is certified with the FBI. Three K9s received specialized training in water cadaver detection.
Trailing / Tracking
Trailing dogs are trained to follow the path that a lost person has taken. Similar to traditional "tracking" dogs, these dogs require a properly preserved scent article and are not distracted by other people in the area. These dogs work on long leashes. Trailing dogs most frequently work trails that are several days old. Trailing dogs can work cases months old!