Two trained search and rescue dogs and their handler from the Southwest Florida K-9 Search Unit visited the Fort Myers Beach Elementary Book Battle Club Monday afternoon.
Gracie, a five-year-old bloodhound, and Higgins, a two-year-old bassett hound, met the Book Battlers on school campus grounds. DJ Beddow, their handler and owner, first came into Miss Trent's classroom to tell the students of the "do's and don'ts" when it comes to dogs. She particularly showed them how to approach a dog.
"You always ask the owner if you can touch or pet their dog," said Beddow. "If they say 'yes,' you should approach their dog with your hand (in a fist) and let the dog come to your hand. You do not run up to the dog, because you'll scare them."
The book battlers were then led outdoors in small groups to introduce themselves to the two canines. The local search and rescue dogs can pick up a scent from a missing person's clothing or other personal item and begin to search for that person.
"Gracie can smell your shoe that you leave behind and follow you all through the school until she finds you," said Beddow.
Gracie was then led through a demonstration to show her expertise in locating a missing person through a scent article. After taking a good whiff of a used napkin, she found Janet, another of the unit's handlers in the school's playground. The students, who followed behind, were called the SWAT team in their assistance.
The Southwest Florida K-9 Search Unit is a non-profit group that is funded entirely by the volunteers of the team or by donations or contributions made. It is comprised of highly trained volunteer support personnel, K-9 handlers, trainers and canines that assist law enforcement agencies, fire departments and emergency management services in a time of disaster or community need.
Both of Beddow's dogs have worked a lot of cases for sheriff's offices, emergency management offices and FBI squads throughout many southern states.
"You have to pass certain national standards with your dog. There are very stringent testing before you get deployed anywhere," she said. "We also have to go to school to be trainers and learn about hazardous materials and how to take care of our dogs."
The Beach Elementary Book Battle Club, which moved on to compete in the Lee County Battle of the Books last year, has to read 15 books during the school year.
Their canine visitation coincided with their current book, which deals with a retired dog that helps out a chicken whose chicks have been stolen.