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Rescue dogs overwhelmed by scale of Oso mudslide search

A searcher and dog walk past debris and standing water at the scene of a deadly mudslide, Thursday, March 27, 2014, in Oso. (AP Photo/The Herald, Mark Mulligan, Pool)

The massive scale of the Oso mudslide rescue and recovery effort is taking its toll on the dozens of search dogs working through the disaster area.

Officials say the dogs are getting exhausted by the scope of the search, and there are unconfirmed reports some dogs have detected so many bodies they are resisting searching any further.

Snohomish County District 21 Fire Chief Travis Hots says dogs remain one of the most effective tools in the search, but the massive debris field is posing a unique challenge.

"Sometimes that scent doesn't come straight up where that person might be trapped. Most of the time that scent takes the path of least resistance and so that scent might come up 30, 40, 50 feet away from where they're really at."

Lisa Bishop with Northwest Disaster Search dogs spent all of Wednesday with her Border Collie, Cody, in the field.

"He's very tired. He did almost fall asleep out there a couple of times when we took a break," Bishop says.

Bishop acknowledges the scene is overwhelming and the odds of a miracle are slim.

"I always hope I find somebody alive and I always have that expectation that we're going to, partially because my dog feels my emotions."

The work is painstaking. Once a dog indicates it smells something, searchers begin probing the area and observing the dog to help further pinpoint a possible location. Then a second dog is brought in to help further refine the search. If that dog responds similarly, crews then begin digging with shovels or by hand.

Each discovery is a painful one, Bishop says, especially since many of those in the field are volunteers who know so many of those likely lost.

"That was actually the most heartbreaking part for me, that actually did bring tears to my eyes when I was out searching in the field today, to see people out there looking for their loved ones."

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About the Author


Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter on KIRO Radio 97.3 FM. He covers everything from May Day riots in Seattle to the latest Boeing news.

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