by Jennifer Odom
It was right after Hurricane Irma that I first met Annette D’Amore. Her friend Linda had asked her to tag along for a workday to help a total stranger. Winds had knocked over two huge oaks and they’d landed across the stranger’s house, pretty much destroying it.
Of course she’d go!
D’Amore, 57, and disabled from an old injury, knew she could still pile moss and sticks onto the wagons while others carted them away. D’Amore was happy to do her part.
Helping others is in her nature. Her actions remind me of the old command, Love your neighbor.
Back in 2011, when the her doctor advised D’Amore to get moving or get in a wheelchair,
she adopted three bloodhounds, all rescue pets.
Search dogs first drew D’Amore’s attention when she worked in freight for the airlines. “Police dogs came into the freight office to train, smelling around for drugs and things,” she said.
Though the three dogs were initially just for her exercise, company, and security, D’Amore later recalled a story about bloodhounds that had sniffed out bombs in Philadelphia. “Why not me? I can train dogs,” she said. Why couldn’t she take her exercise dogs and train them to do something along the same lines, like Search and Rescue (SAR)?
D’Amore’s character trait of responding to the needs of others was what led her to discover Search and Rescue of Central Florida, (SARCF) a group in Sanford, Florida.
And it is a wonderful organization.
According to D’Amore, the group mainly searches for missing loved ones. That could mean children, autistic people, citizens with Alzheimer’s who are lost in the woods–but not usually criminals. SARCF “deploys in search of human subjects only, unless at the request and coordination of an official law enforcement agency. ”
SARCF states that its mission is to provide “high-quality, reliable search, and rescue assistance during emergencies utilizing the most appropriate resources available and to provide applicable training and education to the public.”
“Part of the group’s mission is personal training, “D’Amore said. Members must pass tests on “navigation, man-tracking, area searches, map skills, and geological area.”
D’Amore found herself traveling two hours each way to Sanford, to obtain this level 3 training as a field tracker with SARCF.
And then she had to find ways to overcome her handicap as she trained.
Besides the human volunteers, search and rescue dogs , (which have to be friendly and not show aggression in any way whatsoever), must also go through extensive training, testing, and certification. With that in mind, D’Amore then prepared for level 2, the training of her bloodhounds for dog handling.
Once the National Association of Search and Rescue, NASAR, sets up a new testing site, (the Sarasota certification date got cancelled because of Hurricane Irma), D’Amore is eager for her dogs to pass their tests and gain their certification.
Part of their exam consists of a “live find.” A subject must hide at least a 1/2 mile away with a path of 4-5 turns. The dogs smell a “scent article,” and must not only find, but indicate that the person is the subject they are looking for when they are located.
The rigorous dog testing must be repeated every two years.
Besides field searchers, like D’Amore, there are many other roles for members of SAR teams. Among them are flankers, boat operators, base and field communicators (HAM radio), and metal detection, all voluntary.
A special kind of dedication, like D’Amore’s, is needed for this kind of training and the resulting searches. Members, once certified, are on call 24-7 to serve on the SAR team.
When volunteers are called out, the work is heavy, and the equipment, paid for by the volunteers themselves, is not cheap. Searchers may find themselves hip deep in water, mud, or pressing through the woods. They must wear special protective clothing, bug spray, safety glasses, hat, safety vests, and special waterproof and snake proof boots.
Dogs wear their own special vests and harnesses.
Along with a searcher’s walking stick there is a backpack loaded with of specific essentials like a 24-hour ready-pack, a thermal sleeping bag, a rain poncho, plenty of food like MREs, crackers and snacks as well as food for the dogs, and especially water.
There were many heroes in the wake of Hurricane Irma. But it was my privilege to meet this one, Annette D’Amore, a friendly volunteer, bloodhound rescuer, and Search and Rescue champion.
The world is a better place, a friendlier place, because of people like Annette who will go out of their way, at their own expense, to share love with their fellow man, even despite her own problems. Thank you, Annette. It’s an honor to know you.