Northeast Search and Rescue

The Dogist Fund Recipient, September 2021

Bringing Home the Lost, Injured & Missing

Northeast Search and Rescue. NESAR is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose volunteers offer their specialized search-and-rescue skills to bring home the lost, missing, and injured individuals all over the Tri-State Area. NESAR is one of the leading search and rescue teams on the East Coast. Their K9 search units, water rescue/recovery units, and wilderness evacuation units regularly work emergency searches throughout Eastern and Central Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and beyond. Their human and K9 members have been integral to search and rescue/recovery operations in the aftermath of many events including the aftermath of 9/11, as well as Hurricanes Katrina, Sandy and Ida.These teams are on call 24/7/365, and in an average year, log approximately 50 searches and 10,000 search and training hours. Their handlers, K9s, and technical rescue specialists are trained in live find, human remains detection (HRD), trailing, water detection, swift water rescue, grid search, disaster response, search management, and more. They respond to calls for assistance day or night, on land or water, in all weather. The heroic work of these teams is entirely funded by the organization's volunteers and generous benefactors. We aimed to raise $15,000 to train future search and rescue teams, as well as providing pet insurance for their current working k9s.

These Dogs Smell in Full Color

The NESAR team helps find missing people are from all walks of life. "Young children, people with autism, and dementia patients can wander away from their homes or caretakers. Hikers, campers, and hunters can get lost. The dogs make our jobs so much easier. They have such a powerful ability to locate people through scent. An average K9 nose has 220 million smell receptor cells compared to humans with only 5 million. They smell in full color and can track scent for miles."

“When a person goes missing nobody knows where they are. The search may start with an abandoned vehicle at a trailhead and we might obtain a scent from a car seat or steering wheel or article of clothing the family provided. The dog can then point us as a team in the right direction. The dogs are able to cover huge swaths of wilderness in much less time than a team of ‘ground pounders’ would combing slowly through the woods. Time is of the essence – we don’t know if they’re injured or bleeding or hypothermic. One dog can cover the same amount of area as 40-50 grid searchers in a given time, and ground teams are limited to their vision, which cannot penetrate a debris pile, underground, underwater, inside a collapsed structure, a locked vehicle, etc. And they can still smell just as well at night, while our visual capabilities are obviously very diminished.”

Playing the Finding Game

They have have a whole range of dogs on their team – Malinois, German Shepherds, Labs, Goldens, German Shorthaired Pointers, Smooth Collies, Giant Schnauzers, and mutts. "We start training them as puppies with an exercise called ‘runaways’, where their handler runs and hides behind a tree or bush – it’s just about showing them what a fun game it is to find a person. They learn they’re playing the finding game and each dog is rewarded differently. Some want their ball, some are treat motivated, and some want praise and love. Human socialization is also crucial. You’ll see police dogs, airport sniffer dogs, and narcotics dogs with ‘Don’t pet me I’m working’ on their harnesses – our dogs need to be really well socialized with new and different people because that’s who they're finding. They have to be eager to meet anybody. Our handlers go through a lot of training with first aid, CPR, and carrying people out of the woods in Stokes baskets. It takes us a lot longer to get our training straight than the dogs. The dogs pick up their part of the act instinctually."


Every Disaster is Different

Each dog usually specializes in an area: air scent, trailing, or Human Remains Detection (HRD). Air scent dogs look for any human scent they come across. Trailing dogs are given a scent article that’s been impregnated with one individual’s scent – a pillowcase, a pajama top – and tend to work on a long lead. And Human Remains Detection is pretty self explanatory. The HRD teams may be working in an urban area, like in a building that collapsed, or on the water where people may have gone in and didn’t get out alive. The dogs can find them very well in a lake or river – the scent comes up from beneath the water and gets caught in eddys.


"It’s not a happy thing to talk about but it’s an essential thing. It means so much to that person’s loved ones and family to know what happened to them and to honor that person with a burial or whatever they choose. It is also important for insurance purposes for the family. It’s a macabre conversation but it’s crucial in letting families gain closure. We train the HRD dogs using legally obtained human remains, often donated placenta, but also bone and teeth. The dog’s ability to smell is so specific that we can’t just train them to scent something that we think might smell like human remains. In order for them to work efficiently they have to train on actual human remains. A search may start with a live-find team, but at some point they call it, and it’s no longer rescue, it’s recovery. Every disaster is different.”


A Feeling Like No Other

“When you restore a person back to their family, it’s a feeling unlike any other. I remember there was a hunter missing – it was down below freezing, so there was a lot of urgency. We were able to find him – he had fallen down and hit his head. We were able to bring him back to his family – it was incredible. Another person was having a bad reaction to medication that was causing him to hallucinate. He left his home and family and was out running and terrified. We found him and brought him back with his family and his mom’s reaction was so heartwarming. Whichever dog makes the find gets a steak. Everyone pitches in and buys a steak for the dog.


“It’s important to note that we are all volunteers and receive no compensation from any service. We do all of our own fundraising that covers operating costs, insurance for us and our vehicles, and the specialized equipment we need. We end up paying for most of those costs out of our pockets, and then we have to maintain our dogs – food, vet appointments. We travel to seminars to learn the latest techniques. Funding the first 1-2 years of a search dog's life costs approximately $10,000. It’s an astoundingly expensive volunteer commitment to be a member of a search and rescue team. If it weren’t for volunteers there would be a complete vacuum – fire departments don’t have the bandwidth. People go missing every day all over the country – without volunteer search and rescue teams their families would have very little hope of being reunited with them, or in worst case scenarios, understanding the fate of their loved ones. Search and rescue teams all share the same motto: Always training. Always on call. That others may live.”

We ended up raising $15,000 for Northeast Search and Rescue to fund the training of one search and rescue dog, as well as covering pet insurance for all of their working K9s. We can't thank The Dogist community enough for helping us support this amazing organization!

Testimonial from the NESAR Team


“NESAR cannot thank you enough for the wonderful pictures and videos of our K9s, doing what they love. We are so grateful to everyone at Dogist for showcasing our team and to all those who gave to support the work we do.” – Kathy, NESAR Board President

“A huge thank you to the Dogist team and their audience for this incredibly generous donation. Please know how much your support is integral in our mission to reunite loved ones.” – Katie & K9 Reya