Clutch K-9: New Keweenaw Sheriff’s police dog finds lost hikers

Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Department photo Sgt. Brad Pelli, dog handler for 14-month-old Dutch shepherd police dog, Deputy Dogo, poses with three unidentified hikers the dog located after a search of more than 3 miles Tuesday evening.

EAGLE RIVER — Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Department’s new K-9 unit proved a success this past Tuesday when the dog found a small group of lost hikers, according to Sheriff William Luokkanen.

One female and two male hikers, all in their early 20s, were on a trail near Bare Bluff Tuesday afternoon when they became lost, Luokkanen said. They had wandered off-trail, and when they were unable to find their way back, they placed a 911 call. The call was received at approximately 6:30 p.m.

“At that point, our K-9 handler, who was off yesterday (Tuesday), was called in to work to handle this, Luokkanen said. “He and two other of my deputies went to the scene.”

Based on descriptions from the callers, the deputies were able to ascertain their approximate location and began the search.

“They staged near the trail at Bare Bluff,” Luokkanen said. “They went in, and the dog was able to track these folks approximately 3-and-a-half miles, in very, very rugged terrain, and they were able to find them.”

By around 8 p.m., the responding deputies had made voice contact with the hikers, Luokkanen said, and they were located, recovered and brought out.

Luokkanen said while it was unfortunate the party became lost, the best-case scenario was that they were found and returned to their vehicle in a relatively short time.

“It really brought home to me the value of this program,” Luokkanen said.

Sgt. Brad Pelli, the dog’s handler, attended a month-long training course downstate, during which the time he and the dog, Deputy Dogo, were constantly together.

“During that month-long training, the dog stayed right in the motel room with Brad,” Luokkanen said. “They were bonding. When it comes to a dog, it’s not like another piece of police equipment. I couldn’t say, ‘Brad, when you’re not working, I want Mark to be the canine handler. You can’t do that. It’s not changeable, like a car or a pistol, or whatever. That dog is bonded to its handler.”

Deputy Dogo, Luokkanen said, is a 14-month-old Dutch shepherd and is trained to track the scent of any human being. It is also trained to detect drugs.

Because Pelli was the man who trained with the dog, the dog is bonded only to him, and the two are partners.

“It takes a lot of commitment to be a canine handler,” Luokkanen said. “The dog is kenneled with Brad, he goes on patrol with Brad.”

Since Dogo arrived on May 1, Pelli and Dogo have already conducted educational demonstrations at local schools, Luokkanen said.