Search and recover

Search and recover

Feb 01, 2007

Sifting through the rubble: Dr. Rita Tinsley and her search and rescue dog, Bella, at the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The first time I went out on a drowning search, my search and rescue dog, Bella, tracked down the victim. That's when it hit me: This works. At that moment, search and rescue became real and exciting for me.

In 1992, I founded the Stewart County K9 Search and Rescue Unit. We train a few days a week, but I also live with the dogs to build a bond with them. My son Joe is our training officer. In the past 15 years, my unit has worked searches for missing people in 30 counties in Tennessee and Kentucky. Drown recovery has become my specialty. I've helped locate 25 drowning victims.

The FBI appointed me site veterinarian of the World Trade Center Canine Recovery Task Force. I had worked at recovering bodies for several years, so I was prepared to deal with death investigation. Security was so tight that even our dogs needed photo IDs. We were to look for remains, ID cards, weapons, computer memory, and the airplane's black box. I could grasp the material destruction, but not how many deaths that included. We usually have a description of who we're looking for, but this time it was anything human.

I also responded in Hancock County, Mississippi, after Hurricane Katrina. Although most people in this area had evacuated, we did find one person who needed help. What was striking was that dead animals were everywhere: a 10-foot alligator, squirrels, dogs, cats, deer, hogs, songbirds, chickens, snakes—everything was dead.

Despite the frustration that often comes with this work, the gratitude of the families when their loved ones are found makes the challenges worth it.

—Rita Tinsley, DVM
Animal Clinic of Stewart County, Tennessee

Hot topics on dvm360

Follow dvm360 on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest

For quick updates and to touch base with the editors of dvm360, Veterinary Economics, Veterinary Medicine, and Firstline, and check us out on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

Sell veterinary clients on your service

But you don't have to have butler-style service to win new clients and keep existing clients happy.

Why veterinarians should be more like a Louisiana shoeshiner

If my veterinary clients feel half as good as I did after visiting the 'Michael Jordan of shoeshines,' I'll be thrilled.

Texts from your veterinary clinic cat

If your clinic cat had a cell phone and opposable thumbs, what would he or she text you?

Learning goodbye: Veterinarians fill a void by focusing on end of life care

Veterinarians dedicating their careers to hospice and euthansia medicine may be pioneering the profession's next specialty—at clients' request.