Search and rescue dog handler Stacey Poulson always hopes for a live person to be found at the end of the scent trail. Sometimes only tragedy awaits.
Poulson and her golden retriever, Sage, responded to one such call last week when they helped search for a man reported missing in Haines. Sage found the man’s body. Authorities later said they believed it to be a suicide.
With such a doleful ending, Poulson hopes the family can take some comfort in having closure.
“It’s tragic,” she said in a recent interview. “But at the very least they have an outcome that they know for sure.”
Alaska State Troopers in Haines, who coordinated the search, said the SEADOGS dog handler and canine were instrumental in finding the 26-year-old. If it weren’t for them, the man probably wouldn’t have been found until the spring, they said.
SEADOGS is the Juneau-based K-9 search and rescue team, SE Alaska Dogs Organized for Ground Search. SEADOGS volunteers are often called out to assist in outlying communities, as well as up north and down south in the Lower 48. They conducted 14 searches this past year and 24 the year before that.
This was Poulson and Sage’s sixth search as a team, but their first that didn’t result in a person being reunited with their family. Sage found the man’s body in a forested area behind his house, “pretty well hidden” away from the trail, she said.
“If the dog had not lead me right to him, I would not have seen him,” Poulson said.
The scent trail was four days old, but Sage found him on the second day of the search after they losing daylight too fast on the first day. Poulson said Sage picked up his scent immediately by using a scent article, the man’s pillowcase. Alaska State Troopers, the Haines police and fire departments and other volunteers and professionals comprised the rest of the search party.
Poulson there’s almost no fate worse than not knowing what happened to a loved one. She hopes the family has some sort of relief.
“As a parent myself, I think closure is the key,” she said. “Can you imagine losing your child and months go by and you don’t know where he is? Whether he’s alive or dead? At the very least, they know where he is and they know what happened.”
• Contact reporter Emily Russo Miller at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.