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LONGMONT, Colo. — A volunteer search and rescue dog came down with a mysterious illness this week and his handler is now facing around $6,000 in medical bills.
The yellow lab, named Sam, is part of the Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States , an organization that helps law enforcement and rescue workers search for missing people.
The group does not charge for their services and is comprised of volunteers who donate their time and training to help find people who have disappeared.
“One dog can cover 120 acres in the wilderness, which would take about dozen searchers to do,” said Jeff Hiebert, the president of the organization.
There are 34 volunteer dog teams in Colorado that are called out to help in searches just about every week; two-year-old Sam is one of the newest members.
“Sam was trained to do human remains detection, so he’s like a cadaver dog,” Hiebert said.
Sam also specializes in water searches. The yellow lab has only been certified as a search and rescue dog for a little more than a year but has already helped on big cases in Colorado, including the search for Rita Gutierrez-Garcia, who went missing in March 2018.
Training a dog to do this type of work takes a lot of time; once a dog is fully trained to perform search and rescue, they’re worth nearly $20,000.
“They are involved in some of the worst moments of people’s lives, and they’ve made a difference,” Hiebert said. “It gives the family closure and also some justice for the family. The dogs have helped with evidence.”
On Sunday, Sam started showing signs that he was sick. By Monday, his handler, Cathy Bryarly, noticed his health was sharply declining and rushed him to an emergency animal hospital.
Veterinarians performed MRIs and a spinal tap and determined that his brain had swelling but it was not meningitis, so they started treating him with antibiotics. Sam is getting better, but his handler is now facing around $6,000 in veterinary costs.
Because all of the search and rescue teams with the organization are volunteers, it’s up to each handler to pay for their dog’s care.
Now, the group is trying to raise money to help Sam and other search and rescue dogs who get sick.
“This is our passion, is going out and helping people when they need help,” Hiebert said. “So, we’re just asking for a little bit a help.”
Bryarly still doesn’t quite know what got Sam sick but is hoping he will be able to return home by the end of the week and get back to work within a month or so.