RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — Always on call, Tiana Shuster and her search dog Tango have had a busy summer as search and rescue volunteers.
In the past three weeks, Shuster and Tango have successfully found two missing teenage boys in the Black Hills. The first successful rescue was on July 10th near Pactola Lake and the second happened Monday night near Horse Thief Lake.
“We want them found as soon as we possibly can but there’s definitely a procedure that has to be gone through,” Shuster told KELOLAND News the day after she helped find the second teenage boy and finished working her shift as a lab assistant. “We will drop everything and go. We want to bring people home safe and bring people back to their families. That’s our goal.”
On Monday night, Shuster and Tango were heading back into Rapid City when she and the rest of the Pennington County Search and Rescue volunteer team received the call about a missing 15-year-old boy. Authorities reported Jack Kross was lost while hiking with family near Horse Thief Lake trailhead.
“They can be extremely confusing, especially if you are by yourself,” Shuster said about some of the Black Hills hiking trails. “We were able to use the dog to track him and figure out which trails he actually took to find him.”
Kross was last seen about 3 p.m. MDT and Pennington County authorities posted about Kross missing at 7 p.m. MDT and he was discovered safe by Tango and Shuster around 8 p.m. MDT.
Shuster said there were 31 people looking for Kross Monday night and added “two-thirds were volunteers” like herself.
“For us to come up to him and actually be the ones that find him and bring him in is pretty stinking cool,” Shuster said. “Anytime we are deployed and that person is found and we’ve done something to help do that, that’s a win.”
Footstep to footstep
Search crews always start with the last known point, Shuster said and teams will usually be sent in all different directions. Shuster and Tango, an 8-year-old Australian Shepherd, show up at the last known point of contact, give the scent of the person they are tracking and the dog follows “footstep to footstep.”
“A lot of times we give a direction to follow and we send teams ahead of us,” Shuster said. “They can cross them before we can because we have to follow footstep to footstep.”
Tango is mostly used for direction of travel. He first started training as a search dog when he was six-months old and he’s been certified each year with the North American Police Work Dog Association in tracking.
“If he starts heading in one direction, we push the majority of our resources in that direction,” Shuster said. “It doesn’t mean it’s not impossible they didn’t loop around and go the other direction, that’s definitely a possibility, but at that time that’s what we believe to be true.”
From there, Shuster said they travel “as far as they possibly can.” She said Tango is good at going long distances and can move very quickly.
“We all have to stay in shape to keep up with Tango,” Shuster said with a laugh. “He takes his job very seriously and he wants to get there as soon as he can. He’s very focused.”
Shuster stressed the Pennington County Search and Rescue team is a lot like a family and they work together to find missing people. The team trains together every Tuesday night, but dog training is done outside of those specific training sessions.
“It’s very demanding, but rewarding,” Shuster said. “With the money we bring in as a team, they help pay for our training and our certifications and it’s not cheap.”
Along with typical rugged terrain, searches often have to deal with weather elements and this summer “the heat has been a huge stresser on us for multiple calls.”
“Busier than we’ve ever been,” Shuster said about this summer. “We have had a little bit of everything this summer.”
Night or day, Shuster says many volunteers leave work to help assist with searches. She said there’s been searches where she hasn’t been able to go to bed before she has to head to work for the next day. She said while the searchers get plenty of rewards, strong families help support the searches and deal with missing loved ones when duty calls.
“It really helps to have public support,” Shuster said. “To know we have support is really neat. It helps us do what we do.”