North Naples fire lieutenant trains department's first search-and-rescue dogs

Fire fighter trains her dogs to help sniff out the lost

Michelle Delaney talks Tuesday about what goes into training a search and rescue dog while Acki, 5, a German shepherd, tugs at its reward for finding Brad DeLuca, behind, moments earlier  at 45th Avenue and Immokalee Road in Naples. North Naples Fire and Rescue recently had two German shepherds certified to assist with search and rescue efforts.

Photo by COREY PERRINE, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Michelle Delaney talks Tuesday about what goes into training a search and rescue dog while Acki, 5, a German shepherd, tugs at its reward for finding Brad DeLuca, behind, moments earlier at 45th Avenue and Immokalee Road in Naples. North Naples Fire and Rescue recently had two German shepherds certified to assist with search and rescue efforts.

A half-hour after a rain shower, Michelle Delaney lets her 7-year-old German shepherd out of its cage in the back of her Yukon, and they get to work.

With an orange vest that says SEARCH and Delaney at the end of her leash, Rina bounds through a wooded area in Corkscrew, hot on the trail of a man's scent. In under five minutes, the German shepherd finds him and barks.

"Good girl! Good girl. That's mama's girl," Delaney coos.

For the past five years, Delaney, a lieutenant with North Naples Fire Control and Rescue District, has been training Rina and her son, Acki, to search and track missing people. After thousands of hours of daily training — "enormous amounts of time," Delaney said — the dogs tested and were certified by the National Association for Search and Rescue in mid-August.

They are the first live-find dogs for the fire department, trained to track a person's scent or do grid searches in case a track isn't apparent. The dogs are expected to assist with search and rescue efforts if a child wanders off or an elderly person goes missing.

Deputy Chief Michael Swanson, who was out training with Delaney earlier this week, said it's important to create real-life search scenarios with the dogs as well as reward them for their work.

"Remember, the dog doesn't know if it's training or the real thing," he said.

Training Rina and Acki has been a labor of love. Delaney estimates she's put $20,000 of her own money into training and other expenses and invested countless time into readying them for certification.

"It's hard," she said. "This is all I do."

But the sacrifice is one she knows will pay off. She's even training an 8-month-old German shepherd so it, too, can be certified to search for missing locals.

"If it ever happens, my dogs will be ready," she said. "I don't want a mediocre dog going out there to save your loved one."

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