Blue and Gray Search and Rescue Team
In 1980, Martha Showalter started training her German Shepherd, Nutmeg, for search and rescue. At that time, the use of dogs in search and rescue was in its infancy. She didn’t have mentors to ask or seminars to go to or world class handlers to learn from like we do today. She made the commitment to travel 3 hours north to Northern Virginia to train with the closest canine search team, Virginia Search and Rescue Dogs. She did this for 3 years. At that time it was thought that only German Shepherds could handle the work necessary for the strenuous job of a search dog.
She’d been training with VSARDA for three years, when she decided that she wanted to start team that welcomed any dog that could fulfill the requirements, whether it be a Golden Retriever, Labrador or Cattle Dog. And also have a team closer to home! She invited Vickie Davis, David Garrison, John Shropshire and Lisa and Roger Smith. In that mix were Golden Retrievers, Labradors and some more Shepherds. Soon after, PJ LoPresti with her Cattle Dog and Paula Rhodes and her Bouvier joined the team.
These 7 people formed the nucleus of Blue and Gray Search and Rescue Dogs. When asked why they named it Blue and Gray: “we’re from the south, silly”. They set the standards for what it takes to be a SAR dog handler, the absolute commitment both physically and emotionally. And, almost as important, financially.
Without the network of seminars, world class handler and even the internet that we take for granted today, this core group of people that formed the nucleus of Blue and Gray, developed a world class team. After the horrible earthquake of 1985 in Mexico City, several members of the team travelled to the ravaged city to learn from the rescuers experiences. The experience they brought home helped build the knowledge base for most of the USAR and wilderness teams in the state. Several of them also travelled to Great Britain and Ireland to train with teams in those countries. With this foundation, they were able to expertly respond to the call for help after the earthquake in Puerto Rico. PJ LoPresti and her dog were asked to assist after the Armenian earthquake of 1988.
The experience and knowledge of the forerunners of our team has been lovingly passed on to each succeeding generation of SAR dog handlers. Much has changed since the early days. Dogs in those days were jacks of all trades. The handlers and their dogs were expected to do Urban SAR, Wilderness SAR and Human Remains Detection. Through their trial and error we learned to develop specialized dogs. We now have Urban SAR K9s (FEMA dogs), Wilderness SAR K9s, HRD K9s (i.e. cadaver dogs), water HRD K9s.
The second generation of dog handlers learned much from our founders. Dan Crumrine and his dog, Caesar, were a part of this second generation. They were deployed to Canada to help look for a family of Inuits that were lost when their boat capsized as they were on their way to their hunting camp.
On the team today, basically Blue and Gray’s third generation, we have wilderness SAR K9s and HRD K9s. One of our handlers, Kathleen Connor and her dog, Finn has responded to calls for help nationally and internationally. They were deployed to New Orleans after Katrina to help with body recovery and to Guyana South America to help look for a downed airplane.
We look forward to providing this much needed service to our local, regional and national community for many years to come.