Several volunteer rescue dogs walked through cornfields Sunday looking for Elgin resident Carol Lussky. Following her scent, the K-9 unit started near Lussky’s home, traveled down Big Timber Road and eventually found her lying down in nearby cornfields.
However, Lussky wasn’t actually lost or injured. She was hiding as part of a training exercise.
Sunday’s training session was one of many conducted by Illinois-Wisconsin Search and Rescue Dogs around McHenry County and surrounding areas.
The program is an all-volunteer K-9 search-and-rescue unit on call for law enforcement and fire departments.
“We help many departments that – because of budget constraints – don’t have K-9 units that are specifically trained for search-and-rescue efforts,” said Lussky, who has been a member of the unit for 20 years.
Crystal Lake resident Sharon Naskrent, one of the unit’s founding members, also attended Sunday’s training session. Naskrent said the dogs are trained in scent-specific trailing, human remains detection and water recovery to assist dive teams.
“The rescue unit is completely
free and available to all agencies,” Naskrent said. “We have a 24-hour dispatch through the McHenry County Sheriff’s [Office], and currently have handlers in McHenry County, southern Wisconsin and other nearby areas.”
Naskrent said she got involved because she loves working with dogs and wanted to help the community at the same time.
“We’re one of the longest-going search units around,” Naskrent said. “There’s many now across the country, but we’re one of the oldest in the Midwest.”
Established in 1986, Illinois-Wisconsin Search and Rescue Dogs is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. In three decades, Naskrent said, the K-9 unit has performed 661 search callouts.
To celebrate the anniversary, the rescue dogs program recently hosted a national seminar called Canine Search and Recovery in Rosholt, Wisconsin, where about 124 dog handlers and instructors attended from all over the nation.
“It was nice to meet other handlers and show them how our program has grown throughout the years and conducts training exercises,” Naskrent said.
The unit currently consists of nine dog handlers, two support members and 14 dogs, ranging from bloodhounds, to black Labradors, to German shorthaired pointers. The dogs are creatively named Liebchen, Ragnar, Quinto, Stryker, Brix, Gus, Quest, Lilo, Bullet, Finn, Lily, Tater, Reggie and Remi.
Naskrent said her unit gives demonstrations of their capabilities to interested law enforcement agencies that have not used the service before.
“We really do provide a great service,” Naskrent said. “And I hope more agencies take advantage of it.”