In 1981, Richard Dennis moved to north central MA from NY. He had been a K9 handler with the Adirondack Rescue Dog Association who certified with the American Rescue Dog Association (ARDA). Richard wanted to start a SAR team and after purchasing a German Shepherd Dog from Donna Larson he asked her if she knew anyone interested in this work. The team soon had 4 handlers and a base radio operator signed up.
After 2 years of training NEK9 started reaching out to Law Enforcement in MA, NH and VT to offer its services. The team’s early searches were scattered throughout New England but NH and VT seemed to have a greater need for air scent dogs. Our first search in the NH was in 1983 and VT followed the year later.
During the 1980’s through working and meeting with NH and VT agencies, we started forming a unique certification program geared specifically to their needs. That included a mutual agreement that NEK9 would train dogs strictly for air scent and not tracking or trailing leaving that to LE K9 handlers. NEK9 also offered to search at night as the team was totally self-sufficient, the conditions were better for the dogs and the families of the missing person could be assured that searching would not end at dark.
Searching before technology such as cell phones, GPS and computers was a challenge. Handlers had to be proficient at map and compass and self rescue should their radio fail. Each member was required to have current copies of NH and VT gazetteers for drive directions to searches. Each member was provided with a dispatch phone number and stopped every hour to call on a pay phone checking the status of the search. In the late a 1980’s, the team purchased handheld altimeters to cross reference a given location on a topographical map. In 1999, NH Fish and Game approached NEK9 about the use of a handheld GPS and a program was developed to train NH SAR teams.
NEK9 continued to foster working relationships though meetings, sponsoring seminars and updating our certification to meet the changing needs of our user agencies. In 1998, NEK9 joined forces with UVWRT who provided navigators and higher medical skills to improve the POD of our search teams.
With over 800 searches spanning 37 years, NEK9 continues to update equipment, train rigorously and foster relationships with our user agencies and other SAR teams. In 2017, each member and canine was provided with a live tracking GPS that feeds directly into a mapping program. In 2018, NEK9 was approached by NH Fish and Game to start a pilot program for UAV (drone) usage on searches. In 2018, NEK9 was presented by the Vermont State Police with the Sergeant William Chenard Search and Rescue Award for having “…the highest standards of professionalism and training for their dogs and handlers. They are always ready to assist no matter what time of day or night … The Vermont State Police Search and Rescue Team relies on many different partners to assist them in carrying out their mission, but none are more important than New England K9 Search & Rescue.”