Volunteers from Wiltshire Search and Rescue were joined by one of Lowland Rescues newest assets on a recent search for a missing vulnerable person. Roo, a six-year old spaniel-cross, is a qualified specialist trailing dog and is trained to follow the scent of a specific person.

This is the first time that Wiltshire has been helped by a dog that has been trained as part of the “Search Dog Heroes” project. This is a national programme between charity partners Lowland Rescue and Missing People. This was funded by players of People’s Postcode Lottery through Postcode Dream Trust, to train and equip trailing dogs across the UK in this vital work.

Adrian Sawyer, Chair of Wiltshire Search and Rescue, said, “We operate in close partnership with all Lowland Rescue search teams as we all work to the same standard. This particular search needed extra resources and so we were delighted to welcome Jo from Berkshire Search and Rescue Dogs and her search dog Roo to help us. The dog was able to direct the search in the direction that the vulnerable missing person had travelled, which allowed our search teams to concentrate efforts in that area. This was an excellent example of the interoperability between Search and Rescue and Wiltshire Police. The dog and handler worked unhindered through an urban environment while two officers protected them from oncoming traffic”.

Specific details about the search have been omitted to protect the Missing Person’s right to privacy, but Roo and Jo successfully tracked her scent for over 1.5km. She was then located by a Search and Rescue foot team close by, and required hospital treatment so was transferred into the care of the Ambulance Service.

Police Search Advisor Sgt Keith Jackson, Wiltshire Police Search Advisor (PolSA) said: “It’s fantastic to be able to call on resources like this. With high risk missing persons, the faster we can find them the more likely it will be a happy outcome. I’ve no doubt that this new capability to give us a direction of travel and potentially even track all the way to the missing person’s location will save more lives”.

Michelle Bouchard, Dog Manager for Search Dog Heroes, said: “Following the launch of the Search Dog Heroes initiative in 2018, which was thanks to support from players of People's Postcode Lottery, we're delighted that a qualified dog and handler played such a pivotal role in the search and location of a missing person. Trailing dogs take many months and hundreds of hours of dedicated handling to train. They are asked to follow one particular scent, searching for one person and ignoring all others.”

In the case of the search in Wiltshire, the dog was given an article from the missing person’s house which then became the scent that she was asked to trail. This was forensically gathered from the missing person’s home by police officers to ensure the dog was following the right trail. Dogs are assessed on trailing a scent that is at least five hours old, which allows search and rescue teams to work out the way someone may have walked and concentrate efforts in those areas.

Wiltshire Search and Rescue has been called out many times over the past few months and continues to support Wiltshire Police and other emergency services as required, working within the necessary COVID-19 guidelines to keep volunteers and the public safe from the virus.