GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) - Carlos Redmon Sr. spends most of his free
time performing training exercises with his 3-year-old German
shepherd, Tyson.
The dog is certified to perform search-and-rescue missions with
South Mississippi law enforcement officials.
"The police dogs are taught to apprehend criminals," Redmon
said. "We strictly look for missing persons, Alzheimer patients
and sometimes missing children and hunters."
Redmon started doing the volunteer work in 1984, when he helped
found the Gulf Coast Search and Rescue team.
The group has five volunteers whose dogs are certified to search
for dead or missing persons. Fourteen other volunteers are training
their dogs for certification.
The canines have become a necessity in almost every community in
the United States.
In South Mississippi, Gulfport firefighters are the only
enforcement agency to have the specially trained dogs, often
referred to as cadaver dogs, to search for lost or missing people.
Fire Chief Pat Sullivan said he always calls the volunteer search
group for help because the members are "highly trained and
Sullivan does searches throughout South Mississippi along with
two other firefighters, his son, Brian, and Randy Melton. The three
men work closely with the volunteer group, which sometimes trains
in seminars hosted by the Gulfport Fire Department.
"Because our missions can last for days and days, just having
three dogs is not enough," Sullivan said. "We have to have more
handlers and more dogs to search in the large areas.
"Our weather, depending on the heat and humidity, can cause the
dogs to wear out quite easily, and also one dog might be having a
bad day or the handler is sick."
Sullivan said his department relies on the Gulf Coast search
team because they are professionals willing to dedicate their free
time to help other people. These men and women also spend more than
$2,500 of their own money to train the dogs properly and to buy any
necessary equipment, such as life jackets for the dogs and red
harness uniforms that identify the dogs as part of a search team.
None are paid, but say they still choose to spend the money.
The same is true for Sullivan, his son and Melton, who often
work for free if they're off duty and performing a search. They
foot the dog's medical bills as well.
"There really is no difference between us and Carlos' group,"
Brian Sullivan said. "When it comes down to it, they're always
willing to help. It doesn't matter if it's two in the morning or
two in the afternoon."
Over the years, the dog handlers from Gulfport and those from
Gulf Coast Search and Rescue have helped recover numerous drowning
victims and Alzheimer patients.
Most recently, Redmon and fellow volunteer Barbara Balyeat
joined the Sullivans and Melton in the search for drowning victim
Jerry Bosarge. His body was found a day after he fell into the
water during a fishing trip in the West Pascagoula River.
All the handlers said it's hard to find a dead victim and be
happy about it. They try to remain focused on what the discovery
will mean to the victim's survivors.
"We're not out there for the glory," Redmon said. "If we
were, you'd see our names splashed all over the newspaper all the
time. We are volunteers who just want to help."

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)