“Jorga, kommen!” Randy Searls called.
The 17-month-old Dutch shepherd pranced over, carrying a rubber ball in her mouth. She dropped the toy at Searls’ feet, panting and wagging her tail expectantly.
In moments like these, Jorga could be mistaken for a typical family pet. One would never guess this playful young dog recently located human skeletal remains in Clarendon, S.C., less than five minutes after being released in the search zone.
The ability to shift between work and play is one of Jorga’s unique qualities. When she is not fetching toys, she is training for her job as a dual purposed Search and Rescue K-9 with I & I International.
She is able to locate a single drop of blood on a hidden gauze pad and smell teeth buried 6 feet underground.
“At the end of a track or a find she’ll lick you, play with you, but she will get very aggressive when we clear buildings or if she’s told to attack,” said Searls, her handler.
Searls demonstrated Jorga’s talents Monday, Aug. 4 at Empie Park. He tucked a human tooth into the trunk of a tree in the middle of the park before releasing Jorga from her crate and giving her one command. With her nose to the ground, Jorga quickly made her way through the park. Less than 30 seconds later, she focused her attention on the tree, her ears perked and her tail straight.
“Look, she’s going into odor,” Searls said, interpreting the subtle signals given by his dog. “And now she’s indicating that she’s found the source.”
He explained he taught Jorga a list of 27 specific commands and based on the command he gave, she would know whether she was looking for decomposed remains, tracking a living person, or searching for evidence. To avoid confusion in tense situations, she only responds to commands given in German.
Jorga and Searls practice every day to further refine their seamless partnership. Such a connection between officer and canine is rare, although Jorga and Searls’ story was unusual from the beginning.
When Searls was originally looking for a Search and Rescue K-9, he worked with four young dogs. At the end of three months, he was so impressed by Jorga, he began training her exclusively, teaching her minimal skills until she was nine months old. At that time, she was accepted into Bullocks K9 Academy in Greenville, N.C.
While many handlers simply left their dogs to complete a four- to six-week training course, Searls and Jorga enrolled together in a six-month emersion course.
“I stayed with my dog while she learned everything and I learned everything with her,” Searls said. “Nobody has ever been on the other end of the leash except for me.”
Through this intense training period, a powerful trust was formed, a trust that becomes vital in the dangerous situations Searls and Jorga encounter on their missions.
“Her training has been very different in all of those aspects,” Searls said. “She would go to the ends of the earth with me. We’re never apart.”
Jorga and Searls combine their respective skills to make a formidable team. While Jorga has an exceptional sense of smell and is capable of clearing areas in minutes that it would take a group of men days to clear, she also depends on Searls in some situations.
“She can do things I can’t, but I can see things she can’t,” Searls said. “They don’t see well at all. We’re an absolute team.”
When Jorga isn’t solving missing-person cases and uncovering evidence, she is simply the Searls’ family dog. Searls said when they are at home, Jorga is more attached to his wife.
“She’s my dog until my wife comes home,” Searls said. “[Jorga] will go to disasters, fire, repelling out of helicopters with me but when my wife comes home, she checks out with daddy and goes right to mama.”