bloodhoundtraining|dogloversonvespasIt was a simple note, and it didn’t really mean anything. I was helping to train search and rescue bloodhounds for local law enforcement, and trainer Jim Heck of Summit Search & Rescue Man Trailing Bloodhounds had set up a scenario.

I just needed to write a suicide note.

My grandmother always used an old expression when something spooked her. “Someone is walking over my grave,” she’d say, shaking her head and adding a shiver for a touch of drama. The expression has its roots in ancient times when the sudden appearance of goose-flesh was said to be the result of someone walking over the spot where your grave would be.

That’s how it felt when I wrote the few lines dictated by Jim.

I can’t take it anymore. I’m going for a walk in the woods. Tell Kurt and the kids I love them.

Setting the Scene

It’s an eerie feeling to put yourself in those shoes. Truth be told, it didn’t get much better when we walked into the brush, leaving my hat along the trail. Jim’s scenario called for me to meet a tragic end and the dogs to find my body in the boot of my sister’s car, covered by a tarp. Dark and gruesome. My “sister” (I don’t actually have one.) was another volunteer recruited to tell the story, hand off the note she found and generally be upset about the circumstances.

I could hear everything, covered up in the back of my “sister’s” SUV. Yes, it was all contrived, and yes it was all fake, but it still felt really weird.

Found

I could hear the dogs barking, and then hear them snuffling around the outside of the vehicle.

Their handlers stopped and explained to Jim, “The dog is indicating on the SUV.”

And Jim was cool and calm. “Do you have a search warrant?”

“No.”

“Probable cause?”

The handler explained that their dog was on the scent, and the missing person they were tracking was within.

Permission was granted, doors were opened and positive identification was made. Over and over, as numerous dogs were run through the drill, and each one found me under the dirty, white tarp.

Train Hard for Success

Walking over my grave indeed, but necessary work. Sadly, search and rescue dogs are called out on a regular basis for criminal cases, and they need to be prepared. My little bit of discomfort is nothing compared to what families have to endure when a loved one goes missing. These bloodhounds and their handlers are yet one more tool to aid in finding someone who is lost. If they’re called in soon enough, sometimes they are literally the difference between life and death.

In Jim’s scenario, the outcome was predetermined. As a volunteer, it placed me squarely in some uncomfortable territory. We don’t like to think about our eventual demise, and even this play-acting can be a little too close for comfort.

More Scenarios for Survival

I was in a similar training session years ago during my Wilderness First Aid training. It’s different than standard first aid training; remote locations change everything. In that instance, the scenario called for me to be injured on a mountain hike with a broken femur. Quick anatomy lesson. A broken femur is a serious injury, and death is a reasonable possibility. A broken femur on a mountainside greatly decreases your chances for survival.

I played it well. I yelled. I cringed. I cried. And it wasn’t that hard to do. In real life, I am an avid hiker. And in real life, I have a son with life-threatening food allergies, and when we hike, we carry extra epinephrine, and we don’t allow any food that we aren’t positive is safe, and we plan ahead for rebound, in case the first injection isn’t enough. So, what if your worst nightmare came true? I could imagine it, even though I didn’t want to. Walking on my grave.

Supporting Our Volunteers

Why do this kind of training? Because we have the best chance to succeed, to survive, if we’re well-prepared. My husband says, “Plan the work; work the plan.” And he’s right, and so is Jim. We may not want to think about these worst case scenarios, but if we do, we stand a far better chance of stacking the deck in our favor.

Kudos to the folks that work so hard to bring us home safe and sound. To the folks that spend endless hours slogging through mud and rain and snow and unbearable locations to prepare themselves for the task at hand. And we are grateful for the dogs that labor alongside these fine people; their tenacity is unmatched. Thank you for your service.

Real Life Resources

If you find yourself spending time in the great outdoors, you may want to consider investing in wilderness first aid training through nols.edu or through the Red Cross organization.   Like the proverbial Boy Scout, you’ll be prepared to help yourself and your loved ones, and maybe even be the hero in someone else’s story.

If you ever find yourself in a real life situation that leads you to think about writing your own suicide note, please reach out for help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 800-273-8255.  Staffed 24/7, they are always available to help.  Please call.

There’s a podcast to match this post, look for Episode 6:  The Note on iTunes.  And bear with me, I’ll get this tech down pat one of these days.  🙂

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