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Missing-pet detective taking cases

New Scent Rescue Team finding lost pets in Lower Mainland

The first pet that Karen Nixon and her scent dog Halo found was a lost pooch named Penny Lane.

Penny had been missing for days in Pitt Meadows, and her distraught owner actually camped out at the dikes in Pitt Meadows for two nights, hoping they could find her.

Kylie Nicholls explained they had been out for a walk, unaware it was hunting season, and someone set off a deafening bear banger to scare up some geese. Penny Lane tore away in a panic, and couldn’t be called back. Nicholls and her partner tried to find the rescue from Mexico, but the dog vanished, and was not coming back. They put up lost dog posters, were active in social media, and had friends and volunteers out searching the area, with no luck.

Through that networking, she heard about Nixon and her scent dog in training, and got in touch. Nixon agreed it would be a great trial for the freshly trained Halo.

Nicholls soon got a tip about a sighting from a cyclist, and Nixon came to the scene. They let Halo sniff Penny Lane’s dog bed, and let her start sniffing. About a half hour later, they had the lost dog back.

Halo, a white Shepherd that is fast becoming a canine expert in tracking lost pets, picked up Penny’s scent on the dike. She tracked her to some dense bushes north of the Pitt River Bridge. It was blackberries, that looked like they had been woven together, and Nixon started to wonder what animal Halo might have been tracking.

“She was alerting to that bush, telling me ‘Penny’s in here,’ and I was just like ‘How?” said Karen. “I couldn’t believe she had gotten in there.”

Then Nixon heard a slight whine.

“We saw here little eyes, and it was her,” she recalled.

Nixon was impressed with her dog.

“She blew me away – she did it so easily, so confidently.”

Soon there was a tearful reunion.

“Without Karen and Halo, we never would have found her,” said Nicholls, noting that her dog had injuries to her pads, and was dehydrated and hungry, but otherwise fine. “There’s no words that can say how thankful I am to them.”

Nixon said it’s gratifying work.

“It’s the best feeling – the relief and joy,” she said. “It’s the most rewarding thing ever.

“And seeing the pet that was frightened… as soon as they’re on the leash again, you see them visibly relax.”

The Penny Lane rescue was the first of many, and Halo is regularly out searching for dogs and cats that go missing.

Nixon is a paramedic who lives in Maple Ridge, and bought a puppy two years ago from a breeder in Illinois.

Halo is a snow white Swiss Shepherd – a breed that is popular in eastern Europe, and are sporting dogs used for tracking and obedience trials.

“They’re a well-rounded, nice sporting dog,” said Nixon. “And they have an off switch at home. They’re really lovely dogs.”

They soon formed a group called the Scent Rescue Team. Other members are Paige Millward, who has an Australian Shepherd named Bailey, and Stephanie Tolea who has a German Shepherd Elly. They have all had scent training.

“We’re still very new, our dogs are still young, but so far we’re doing pretty good,” said Nixon.

There are the three dog handlers, a drone flier, and they have some equipment such as dog and cat traps and nets. Advanced Drone Solutions is a Coquitlam business, and they volunteer their time for searches, asking only for their costs to be covered.

Nixon explained dogs that get severely frightened, such as from fireworks, can sometimes run away in a blind panic, and then go to ground in a hiding spot.

“Once they get into that fight-or-flight mode, they don’t even come for their owners,” she said. After a while, she said, even hearing their name called “becomes a trigger,” and they won’t come out of hiding.

Scent dogs make the task of finding them a lot easier. A young Chihuahua had been missing for about five hours, and Halo found the dog under a neighbour’s house in about 10 minutes.

Nixon knows personally the trauma a person feels at losing their pet, and even before she had Halo she would help people in the search.

“I really feel for these people, and understand how terrifying it is,” she said. “We don’t charge. We just recently started accepting donations.”

“I hope more people reach out to me.”

Anyone looking for a lost pet can ask for their help on the Scent Rescue Team page on Facebook. She asks that they post a photo and message, email, and there are also phone numbers on the site.

Their members are in Vancouver, Langley and Maple Ridge, and they search for pets across the region.

Nixon would also encourage other people to join the hobby. Any breed can do it, and she noted that pugs are surprisingly good at scent tasks.

“Dogs love jobs, and it’s a really great bonding experience with your dog,” she said.

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Neil Corbett

About the Author: Neil Corbett

I have been a journalist for more than 30 years, the past decade with the Maple Ridge-Pitt Meadows News.
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