It was the middle of the night when a group of Cub Scouts staying at the Philomath Scout Lodge for a weekend retreat decided to see if the sawmill over yonder really was haunted. They had heard stories and curiosity got the best of them.

So, they ditched their supervisors and headed out on an adventure. In the pitch black darkness, they built a campfire before deciding to head back toward the lodge.

"As they tried to make their way back home, everybody got separated and lost."

Those are the words of Dave Vesely, the lead planner for a K9 search-and-rescue mock mission that occurred Saturday in the Scout Lodge and Mill Pond Business Park area. He came up with the fictional scenario to challenge the dogs and their handlers.

"There are different kinds of search-and-rescue dogs," Vesely said. "There's the trailing dogs — you give them a scent article and they're targeting on a particular individual person. And there are the air scent dogs and they're sent out off lead. They're trained to just find anybody and no particular person and so they're mostly used in wilderness areas or big agricultural lands."

The Region 3 K9 Search-and-Rescue Team, which covers Benton and Polk counties and assists with other calls from around the Willamette Valley, hosted the operation, which included about 30 volunteer participants. Besides the local organization, there were dog teams from other regions around the state.

Wendy McIlroy left her dog, Moira, at home Saturday and served as the Region 3 K9 team leader.

"There was one backpack left there ... that was the only scent article for one of the people," McIlroy said during the morning session when five trailing dogs were searching. "The first dog went out, found the first person and at that point, they got the clue that they had made a bonfire out by the sawmill. And then there were more articles for other dogs out there, so all the dogs could work.

"The first dog did a beautiful job and the rest of them are working now," she added.

The air scent dogs took over for an afternoon scenario.

"It's the people that are missing out there that weren't found by the trailing dogs," McIlroy said. "We want to do everything we can to utilize all of our different resources. I'm blind to it, so I don't know the scenario. I just know this scenario from what we've learned and what has occurred."

The dogs communicate with their handlers when they hit on something.

"When the dog finds somebody, they come back and they have some kind of alert behavior," Vesely said. "Like some dogs will just bark and have their handler follow them."

Tracy Robertson worked as incident commander from a base that was set up in the Scout Lodge parking lot. Don and Betsy Reid manned the mobile van and directed communications.

"We were originally going to add cadaver into it and put out a placenta somewhere that would simulate a dead body," McIlroy said. "We just had too much going on. That was just one more thing we didn't need to do. So it's all 'live find' today, but we do train as cadaver dogs as well."

Search-and-rescue teams are just getting into the use of drones and an operator was on hand to work the training exercise as well.

"We really haven't done a lot with it, so part of this mock is hopefully we'll be able to use them in certain areas where the dogs can't go because there are nasty berries or whatever," McIlroy said. "That's the big thing with the drone that's really nice. You get that view down below that you can't get (on the ground)."

Overcast skies prohibited the drones from going up during the morning session but they were used in the afternoon when the weather cleared up.

"We're just starting to learn how to incorporate drones into search and rescue," Vesely said. "Today, the dog teams know that we've got this resource and we'll see how they get used."

McIlroy said search-and-rescue dogs train every week, but the mock mission gives participants a chance to learn more about communications, navigation and safety.

According to Benton County Search and Rescue, there were 26 missions in 2017. Over the past six years, there have been as many as 47 in 2012 and as few as 19 in 2016.

"I've gone three times in a week and then haven't gone for two months," McIlroy said. "Up around Portland, they get a lot more calls because there's a lot more people and a lot more city people going out in the woods that don't know what they're doing. Around here, a lot of the people are a little more savvy to begin with and so we don't get nearly as much as they get up there."

As of the day of the mock mission, the last time the Region 3 K9 team had gone out was back on Nov. 4.

"The last time I went out was for mushroom pickers in November," McIlroy said. "They go out, it gets dark and they can't find their way back to the car. The last one we had was great because my dog found them in like six minutes. They actually weren't too far from the trail but it was dark."

The mushroom pickers, a couple in their mid-30s, were on Marys Peak up Woods Creek Road.

"That was wonderful because it really showed a lot of our resources," McIlroy said. "I scented my dog off their car and she did a nice trail up and at the same time, they were going up and down the road behind the locked gate with sirens and making noise with whistles and all that other kind of stuff. We hadn't gone more than 100 yards up the trail when we heard them yelling."

McIlroy said everybody quieted and the couple and searchers communicated with one another by yelling until found.

"My dog, she would've found them anyway because she was headed the right way ... It was kinda neat because it was the sound search, getting their attention and 'hey, they're looking for you' and at the same time, we had the dog going in the right direction so we were able to make that really fast," McIlroy said.

Not all missions have happy endings, of course. Out of those 26 operations last year, four involved deceased individuals — a suicide at Helmick Park in Polk County, two drownings at Wallace Park in Marion County, and a logging accident victim in Starker Forest. Three other missions involved searching for evidence at a murder scene in Benton County.

Most operations, however, involve the K9 teams successfully finding people who get lost in the woods.

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