KEESEVILLE - Oakland is a search dog who spends his days training to save the lives of others. Now, he's the one who needs saving. The 2-year-old German Shepherd is part of the Champlain Valley Search and Rescue K9 Unit, an independent, nonprofit organization based in Keeseville. Recently, Oakland was performing advanced obstacle training when he fell and severely tore his Achilles tendon, said Shannon Bresett, a dog handler and co-founder of the search and rescue unit.
Bresett and her husband, Christopher, a fellow dog handler and co-founder of the unit, were in the Adirondack Mountains with Oakland and other dogs from the unit on a routine training exercise when the injury occurred, she explained.
"We noticed he had a slight limp, but we didn't think much of it because that happens from time to time on exercises," she said. "Then, we noticed he would not put any pressure on his leg whatsoever."
Bresett and her husband took Oakland to a veterinarian for further examination where it was found Oakland had a severe tear in his Achilles tendon.
"It's not completely severed, because if it were, he'd have no control over it," said Bresett. "He can keep it upright, but it's hanging on by a thread."
Though Oakland hasn't shown signs of being in pain - as much as a dog can show, said Bresett - he will need surgery to correct his injury. Estimates received show the surgery will cost approximately $2,500, with necessary rehabilitation therapy bringing the expense to nearly $5,000.
"I have no problem putting that much money into him," said Bresett, "it's just being a nonprofit, we run primarily on donations and mainly on funding through our own pockets."
While their main concern is for Oakland's well-being, said Bresett, the search and rescue unit does depend on the service dogs like Oakland can provide. And, considering the unit of seven dogs and eight volunteers serves a 100-mile radius from the village of Keeseville - extending north to the Canadian border and south to Warren County and to points in between - Oakland's surgery is crucial, she said.
"It's just amazing that one dog equals the efforts of about a hundred people," said Bresett. "Even volunteer organizations like the fire departments realize that if you let the dogs go in first [in a search and rescue operation], you're covering a lot more ground and the percentage to find the person alive becomes greater."
"Maybe I'm biased, but I think it's an important cause," she added. "I've just seen the difference that having dogs on searches makes."
Every day Oakland's tendon remains unrepaired, the more difficult his surgery will become, said Bresett. And, without the full use of his now injured leg, he will essentially become unable to serve the unit, for which he was just recently nationally-certified.
"I think it's important for people to realize that we're a volunteer organization and though this is something that's like a hobby for us, we take it very seriously," Bresett emphasized. "We train these dogs at least four hours a day, plus work full-time jobs ... and we're out there giving public presentations. Hopefully, we're a service people will never have to utilize, but it's good to know we're there if they do."
Those wishing to make a contribution to the Champlain Valley Search and Rescue K9 Unit toward Oakland's surgery may do so by sending tax-deductible donations in care of the organization to 27 Beach St., Keeseville N.Y. 12944.
For more information, contact the unit at 314-6756 or visit their Web site at www.champlainvalleyk9unit.com.