High Voltage K9: Meet Angelica and Her Certified SAR Dogs
Angelica is not your typical dog mom. Yes, she posts adorable pictures of her three pups on Instagram and wants the very best for her dogs. However, Angelica has also trained two of her three dogs to be certified search and recovery (SAR) dogs ready to seek out human remains whenever the call comes.
Meet the Dogs
Angelica now has three dogs. She got Sawyer first in 2016. A seven-year-old lab who’s goofy, smart, and loving, Sawyer is a certified SAR dog who is a dual purpose live find and human remains detection (HRD).
Second came Jedi, her two-year-old working line German Shepherd (WLGSD). Jedi is certified for HRD and was recently diagnosed with Pannus, an autoimmune disease that affects the cornea. Most recently in September 2022, Revel joined Angelica’s crew. Revel is an eight-month-old WLGSD who’s eager to please, a working machine, and prances when he’s excited.
How Angelica Got into Search and Recovery
Angelica started her dog handling journey getting into dog sports in 2012, but her dog at the time didn’t have the right temperament for the sport and was later washed. In 2016, while Angelica was in college, she volunteered as a puppy raiser for an organization training diabetic alert service dogs, or DAD’s, and got Sawyer to raise.
Sawyer’s energy and drive didn’t make him an ideal fit to be a diabetic alert dog, but it made him perfect for search and recovery (SAR). “I had expressed that when I was done raising Sawyer, I would go into search and recovery, but with a German Shepherd,” explains Angelica. “Due to his career change, I was able to keep Sawyer as a working home to pursue SAR. That’s where are journey began”.
Sawyer officially became Angelica’s dog in November 2016 and the team began their training for SAR.
In February 2018, Angelica and Sawyer passed their national live find certification, followed by a regional human remains detection certification in May. In May 2019, the pair got their national human remains detection (HRD) certification and that summer they got water and shore certified as well.
Balancing Training and Full-Time Work
Managing three high drive dogs is no small task. With one being a puppy and training for high level SAR work and sport competitions, it could be a full-time job. However, Angelica does all of her dog work on her own time on top of her actual full-time job as a project manager in Idaho.
Angelica spends at least a couple hours training the dogs everyday running 20 to 30-minute training sessions with the dogs three to four times a day. On the weekend, she’ll train longer.
In each session, she does a search of some kind, hiding a source in her basement, or setting longer search problems outside when the weather allows. Then she’ll train them in obedience and fitness exercises. “I feel like an important part of having a working dog is making sure they're strong and fit so they don’t hurt themselves while working and have the endurance to be out in the field for four or five hours at a time,” says Angelica.
Specifically, Angelica uses the Penn Vet K9 Fit to Work program to keep her pups spry, fit, and balanced for any type of environment in the field.
Volunteer Search and Recovery Missions and Protecting Her Dogs
Since Angelica became certified for SAR, she’s been on various searches in the wilderness and helping with different types of cases. “Of the six years I’ve done this, I’ve been called on one live find, and the sheriff’s department found the man before we got to him,” says Angelica. “Everything else has been when the person has already passed and it’s mostly been criminal or cold cases rather than a wilderness search.”
That being said, one of the most memorable assignments Angelica went on with Sawyer was a wilderness search mission looking for a missing woman in the Sawtooth mountains in the fall of 2020. “It was the first time Sawyer and I had ridden in a helicopter. The local SAR team dropped us at the top of the saddle of a mountain,” says Angelica. Angelica, Sawyer, and a former teammate had to get down the mountain to start the search. They ended up having to scramble and slide down a 30-degree angle scree and snow field with poor weather on the way with nothing but a paracord they had with them. “The local SAR team should have given us proper climbing gear or not sent us that route at all,” says Angelica. “We could have gotten in serious trouble up on the mountain, as it wasn’t our expertise in that rough and steep terrain. I was crawling or sliding down the whole time. I am lucky, as it could’ve ended in an entirely different scenario”.
After that harrowing experience, Angelica is much more selective and careful about assessing the safety for the calls she chooses to help with. “It used to be that they’d call me and I’d go on anything. All I want to do is help where I can,” explains Angelica. “After that experience, I always double check the terrain, my area to search and who can go as a flanker that I trust. If all the boxes check out, I am on my way with my dogs.”
Angelica knows the importance of prioritizing her and her dogs’ health even on important human remains recovery missions. Along with being cautious about the missions she accepts, another part of her safety tools for her dogs has been Rex Specs. “In the field, there's a lot of cheatgrass, barbed wire and other different hazards. It’s important to keep Sawyer’s and Jedi’s eyes protected,” says Angelica.
In December 2022, Angelica noticed a dark spot had developed in one of Jedi’s eyes. “He has really pretty brown eyes and it was just looked abnormal,” says Angelica. A vet appointment shortly after confirmed it was the progressive autoimmune disease, Pannus.
Moving into this new chapter with Jedi, Angelica is even more careful about protecting Jedi’s eyes from UV exposure. Rex Specs has become an essential part of the treatment.
“We were wearing our Rex Specs only in the field and certain times it was really bright, but now Jedi wears them every time he goes outside,” says Angelica. Living in Idaho at 4,700 feet above sea level, that high-elevation sunlight hits differently and can have a big impact in causing and exacerbating the impacts of pannus, so Rex Specs’ UV protection is an important part of treatment.
With the help of Rex Specs and medication, Jedi should still have plenty of happy, full-vision years of SAR work and outdoor adventures ahead of him.
What’s Next for High Voltage K9s?
So what does the future hold for the High Voltage K9 pack? First up, Angelica plans to continue to progress the dogs’ training. For Sawyer, that means keeping up-to-date with current certifications and competing in more AKC (American Kennel Club) events. For Jedi, Angelica hopes to get him certified for water HRD this summer. And for Revel, Angelica wants to get him on track to compete in IGP — a dog training sport with obedience, tracking, and protection.
Words by Johanna Flashman