TRSAR Dog Team
Dogs Help Find Lost Patient
Friday, August 17,
Labrador-pit bull mix dog, Pollyanna, is one of
the six tracking dogs trained to help the Tonto
Rim Search and Rescue.
The dogs helped rescuers locate an Alzheimer’s
patient lost overnight.
Toulouse, a 6-year-old blue tick coonhound dog stopped,
looked at its handler and whined outside 87 Cyclery
early Monday morning. He stopped at the same spot two
other Tonto Rim Search and Rescue tracking dogs had
stopped after following the scent of a missing man
through neighborhoods and along the Beeline Highway.
With no sign of the Alzheimer’s patient, the search and
rescue volunteers found themselves face to face with a
frightening mystery. The dogs had done their job; now
their handlers had to decipher what the dogs had
The next day, the man turned up sleeping under a tree in
Pine — and the message of the dogs became clear.
The man had wandered down the highway after walking away
from the lock-down unit at Payson Care Center. A
passerby picked up the 66-year-old. Perhaps thinking he
lived in Pine, the good Samaritan drove him up and
dropped him off.
The man later told nurses he was trying to get to the
Farmers Market at the Sawmill Crossing, which staff took
him to every weekend.
Susan Starr, TRSAR board member and dog team leader,
said the dogs were telling searchers the man had come
down the highway and left the area.
“I consider this one of the best outcomes we have ever
had with the dogs, especially such good tracking dogs as
Ringo, Chill and Toulouse,” she said. “They went to
where the subject was picked up and they stopped and all
three told us “this man is not here” and that is what
good track trail dogs do.”
This is the second major mission for the TRSAR dog team
this year. In April, a woman wandered away from the
Powell Place. She was found at Payson High School.
While most residents hear about TRSAR volunteers hiking
down to Fossil Creek to rescue dehydrated hikers, into
the various canyons around Rim Country to carry out
injured canyon-goers and on the trails looking for lost
hikers, they also have a talented team of four-legged
What started with one dog several years ago has swelled
into a team of six dogs.
Ringo, a 5-year-old Aussie/hound mix, was the first dog
the team trained and Starr now cares for her at home.
She then added her 6-year-old bluetick hound Toulouse.
The other dogs in the team include Lewis, a 10-year-old
Labrador/heeler mix, owned and handled by Jim McMillion;
Echo, a 3-year-old Aussie mix, owned and handled by
Margaret Johnson; Chill, a 4-year-old pure-bred
Australian shepherd, owned and handled by Greg Reed and
Robin Ippolito’s 1.5-year-old Labrador/pit mix
All of the dogs undergo long hours of training, which
TRSAR funds through community donations. The handlers
pay for the dogs’ food and all veterinary needs are
provided for free by Alan Hallman, with Star Valley
At 1:30 a.m. Sunday, Starr got a call that an
Alzheimer’s patient was missing.
After the April mission, the team in May went through
some new training to learn new tracking techniques.
This was the chance to put those to work.
Starr said they learned about trust at training. For
years, the handlers had let their dogs wander wherever
they wanted on a search.
But sometimes this lets dogs get off task and is “just
taking you for a hike.”
Every so often now, a handler checks his or her dog.
Gently pulling back on the leash will either prompt the
dog to continue to pull in the direction of the scent
trail or turn for directions, indicating they’ve lost
The team also learned to recognize when the dogs have
concluded the person they were tracking is no longer in
“This is so difficult to read,” she said.
Handlers must recognize the dog’s signal, especially
after it has followed a scent track for several miles
and then just stops. Some handlers might think the dog
has given up. But in this case, the dogs were signaling
the man’s scent had vanished at the point he got into
“We had three very confirmed negatives,” Starr said. “I
was really impressed with the three teams.”
The urban environment added to the difficulty of the
search. When a person walks down a street or a trail,
they leave a scent trail. Some bloodhounds can detect
this trail even two weeks later.
This time, the man had been missing for only a few
Each dog sniffed the man’s pillowcase and then led their
handler through a 6-foot gate outside the lockdown wing
of Payson Care Center the missing man had scaled (he had
a history of this). About 10 feet from the gate, was a
4-foot gate, locked, but loose on its hinges so there
was a gap of about a foot. Ringo, nose on ground, went
through these and then went west through the car wash
parking lot and south on 87.
At the 87 Cyclery bike shop his head
came up and he stopped. Sgt. Rod Cronk, with the Gila
County Sheriff’s Office, started dog team No. 2 Reed and
Chill, with Kate Nicholson and Mary Gomez-Robles as
support. After about 20 minutes, Chill stopped in front
of 87 Cyclery and put his head up.
The final dog, Toulouse, as large as he is, fought his
way through the bottom hole in the chain locked gate
with his vest on and took off. He cleared every doorway,
every stairwell, every culvert along the way. He reached
the same area at the bike shop as had Ringo and Chill
It was now 5 a.m.
“I am very confident that our dogs searched along an
active highway where scent is tossed around willy-nilly
and hard to lock on to, but the dogs prevailed. This is
something we have trained for, to understand when a dog
gives a negative, telling you the search is effectively
over because the subject is no longer there.”
The GCSO found the man Monday at 2:30 p.m. in Pine. He
had suffered no injuries during his misadventure.
A nurse from Payson Care Center later told Starr the man
was trying to get to the Farmers Market, which he
visited every Saturday. He told the nurse that an old
man in a truck stopped and asked him what he was doing,
told him it was too dark and too cold for him to be out
and asked him where he was headed. The missing man
“The bottom line is our dogs are smart and very attuned
to the search, but they depend upon us to interpret what
they are telling us and this is very complicated and
very difficult for us humans,” Starr said. “I’d like to
thank Cronk for his expert handling of the search and
how he handled the dog teams. You cannot ask for
purebred Australian shepherd trained by Greg
Reed, is a member of the Tonto Rim Search
and Rescue dog team.
trained by Susan Star is a member of
the Tonto Rim Search and Rescue dog team.
a bluetick hound trained by Susan Starr, is
a member of the Tonto Rim Search and
Rescue dog team.
Copyright © 2017 Tonto Rim
Search and Rescue Squad