As population ages, crews train for urban searches

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Cindy Mullings used a young dog named a Cricket during an NVSR training search recently.

It had just started to snow hard and members of the North Valley Search and Rescue team smiled.

This was perfect, they noted.

Folks rarely get lost on nice days when the sun is shining. They get lost in bad weather in the dark in places that are often tough to get to. Sometimes, however, they just wander away from home.

That happened earlier this winter at Timber Creek Village Assisted Living Center when an older gentleman wandered away from the facility on a dark, cold night.

The man was found near some trees and bushes near the parking lot which illustrates a point: That in the dark, even the best searches can overlook a spot that might be obvious in the daylight.

To that end, North Valley recently did a training exercise at Timber Creek Village as the snow fell and darkness crept in. They were invited by Stacie Currie, administrator of the facility. Residents at Timber Creek are able to come and go as they please, but even so, they’re all older folks and it’s important to ensure their well being.

With a growing older population and more assisted living facilities in the valley, so-called urban searches — where a person might be in town but has simply wandered off — are bound to become more common, noted Currie and Julie Balch, president of NVSR.

NVSR has several teams with search dogs. On this particular training session, two volunteers walked out of a side door of the facility and wandered across Highway 2 to Woodlawn Cemetery.

Dog handler Cindy Mullings used a young dog named a Cricket who is of no particular breed, but still seemed adept at finding people to begin the search. Once given the scent, the dog is able to track the subjects even across busy parking lots and highways.

Last year NVSR went on 18 searches at the behest of the Flathead County Sheriff’s Office.

“That was a slow year,” Balch noted.

The volunteer group has about 60 members total. It has a long history in the valley — it was founded in 1972 and has been on hundreds of searches since. To learn more or to about volunteering, visit:

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