Porter firefighter enlists help on searches from German shepherd

2014-03-04T00:00:00Z 2014-03-28T10:53:04Z Porter firefighter enlists help on searches from German shepherdSusan O’Leary Times Correspondent nwitimes.com
March 04, 2014 12:00 am  • 

PORTER | Harley probably never dreamed that once he was rescued from his kennel cage he would become a rescuer himself.

When Jay Craig, Porter Fire Department assistant chief, freed Harley from his confines, that destiny was already in motion.

* Craig, a 20-year volunteer with Porter Fire, said he’s always had an “infatuation” with purebred German shepherds. Years ago, he trained his female German shepherd in search and rescue, but “she didn’t have what it took to be good at it.”

“She did it because I told her to do it, but not because she was enjoying it,” Craig said.

Then in November 2010, Craig spotted 7-month-old Harley at a kennel used by One Dog At a Time rescue in Warsaw, Ind.

“I thought, 'Here’s the dog I’ve been looking for all these years,’” Craig said. “I always wanted that big, strong, standard look of the German shepherd, and that is what Harley is. He’s very chiseled and has a fantastic look to him. Visually, he was what I was looking for, and after meeting him the first time, the two of us just hit it off.”

Craig trained Harley “from Day One.” Craig has done most of Harley’s training himself, while most “working” dogs are trained professionally.

“There are so many ways out there to train a dog ... everybody has a different way. I’ve tried to absorb everybody’s ways and come up with a way that works best for me,” Craig said.

After training on their own for a year, Craig and Harley also completed Department of Homeland Security search and rescue training. Harley began working for Porter’s fire department in March 2012, and he received his North American Police Work Dog Association certification in September 2013.

Harley is certified for building searches, trailing and tracking, area search and article find, and obedience, and he has an intermediate cadaver search certification. When he’s working, he wears a “search” vest and a GPS collar, while Craig carries a GPS unit so he always knows his dog’s location.

Harley is different from law enforcement K-9s, said Craig, because when Harley finds the individual he’s searching for, he does not touch the person, but “alerts,” or barks. Police dogs are trained to apprehend the target unless called off by the handler. In addition, Harley is trained to find both live and deceased targets.

Since Harley began working for Porter, he’s been called out at least monthly, but Craig keeps Harley’s skills honed by training with him several times a week.

“Dogs have generations of experience doing this,” said Craig. “They did this in the wild … that’s how they found their food. It’s a natural thing for them.

“When you’re teaching trailing and tracking, you’re teaching the dog to follow the scent you want and yourself to read the dog to know how he’s doing the right thing,” said Craig.

When he’s not working, Harley doubles as a public relations canine, visiting schools and teaching kids about fire prevention.

“He’s the celebrity at Yost school,” said Craig.

Like Craig, Harley is a volunteer, so the dog is Craig’s financial responsibility, although Harley receives complimentary veterinary care at Westchester Animal Clinic in Porter.

And because he is also a family dog, Craig’s wife and daughters get to enjoy having Harley at home.

“He’s great to my family. They are very loyal dogs … he’s very loyal to the family,” said Craig. “He’s really good and such a goober. He just loves attention from people.”

* Editor's note: This story was corrected from an earlier version, which incorrectly reported the number of years Craig has served with the Porter Fire Department.

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