“Trust your dog:” Louisiana volunteer team using search and rescue dogs to help police find missing persons

Kirsten Watson and her German Shepherd Quest getting ready to practice detecting remains. Photo credit: Calista Rodal/LSU Manship School News Service
Kirsten Watson and her German Shepherd Quest getting ready to practice detecting remains. Photo credit: Calista Rodal/LSU Manship School News Service

Published: Nov. 26, 2021

By: Alex Tirado and Calista Rodal, LSU Manship School News Service

SLIDELL, La. — Wading through knee-high waters in the marshes near Slidell, James “Trey” Todd and his K-9 partner are on full alert for any sign of movement. While their mission is to locate the remains of a local man, they are also watching out for the 500-pound beast that bit into him.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, the man Timothy Satterlee, was attacked by an alligator outside his home. Then Satterlee and the gator both vanished.

Todd was one of several members of the Louisiana Search and Rescue Dog team called to search for Satterlee. Todd and his yellow Labrador retriever named Messi Rue crisscrossed the alligator-infested swamps for days, fully aware of the dangers that hid just below the surface.

“I was scared to death,” Todd said.

In that case, wildlife officials found the 12-foot alligator before the cadaver dogs could, and DNA showed that Satterlee’s remains were inside its stomach. But just three weeks later, Todd and Messi Rue were at the forefront of a search for a missing woman.

Leslie Ann Smith had abandoned her car on the side of the road a month earlier in Lamar County, Mississippi. Deputies looked for her in the adjacent woods, but the dog team found her scattered remains, along with a gun that suggested suicide, about a half-mile from the original search perimeter.

Members of the search-and-rescue team, known as LaSAR, have deployed their dogs on more than 600 searches across the country since Lisa Higgins and her daughter Troi-Marie founded the group in St. Tammany Parish in 1991. Working with the FBI and local police agencies, the team has helped solve dozens of criminal investigations by searching for cadavers. It also has rescued missing Alzheimer’s patients and found runaway teens.

As a non-profit organization, the team’s 11 members are all volunteers. Todd is an orthopedist, and Higgins has worked jobs ranging from a law enforcement reservist to a K-9 contractor for the FBI. But they all spend many hours training their dogs to rescue missing people and recover human remains.

Read more at KLFY

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