On World Alzheimer’s Day, Missing People and Lowland Rescue have announced the launch of Search Dog Heroes, a national project which is aiming to train 100 trailing search dogs, and equip those caring for people such as those living with Dementia, with the knowledge and tools to act fast if their loved one was to go missing. The charities have been awarded £1 million by People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund.
Somebody goes missing in the UK every 90 seconds. When a person is reported missing, their level of risk is categorised by the investigating police force, and will depend on circumstances such as their age, mental health and medical conditions. People living with Dementia can feel the urge to walk about, and in some cases, leave their home. Problems with orientation may make it difficult to find their way back, and contributing factors such as extreme weather and other medical conditions could increase their risk of coming to harm whilst missing.
Missing People is the only UK charity to provide round the clock practical and emotional support to anybody affected by a disappearance. The charity’s free and confidential helpline takes calls, texts and emails 24 hours a day from devastated family members who are desperate for news of their missing loved one, as well as from vulnerable people who are away from home themselves.
Karen Robinson, Director of Partnerships and Development at Missing People, said: “An estimated 850,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, most of whom are at great risk of going missing. We’ll be educating members of the public who have a vulnerable loved one in how to prepare for this devastating moment so that the search can be launched quickly and with the very best resources at hand. A fast-acting and accurate search could, in some cases, literally be the difference between life and death.”
Lowland Rescue provides search and rescue support to the emergency services and is the coordinating body for the UK’s lowland volunteer search and rescue teams. Their teams work from hill to high water utilising many different type of assets and techniques, including trained search dogs that work in any outdoor environment to find missing people.
The search and rescue charity is in the process of assessing multiple dogs across the country, to establish which will be suitable to enter a 12 month training scheme where they will learn to track an individual scent; a process which could prove critical during a search for a high risk missing person.
Paul Lewis, Chairman of Lowland Rescue, said: “Lowland Rescue has been operating for over 25 years. Over this time we have pioneered many firsts and new ideas in the UK Search & Rescue environment. Be this the use of drones, the creation of a Lowland Rescue first responder medical qualification, or development of National standards for all teams.
Now, working with expert scientists in the field of trailing dogs and scent detection, we have been testing, developing and refining the process for capturing and storing a person’s scent, and are now aiming to train 100 new specialist search dogs. They will trail the scent of a missing individual, resulting in a much more accurate direction of travel and thus search strategy, and in best case scenarios, leading us straight to the person. Ultimately helping to save more lives, when every second counts”
Purpose-made scent kits will be available over the coming months, with full instructions on how to capture and safely store a scent. Once the project is fully operational with trained dogs being deployed across the country, the scent article could be used in moments of crisis if the person was to go missing. Details of the person which are stored with the scent kit would offer an additional source of information to aid with the police search.
Karen added: “Although our initial focus will be on those living with Dementia, we plan to extend this service to support others who may be at greater risk of going missing, such as people with learning disabilities or poor mental health.”
Search Dog Heroes is being made possible by People’s Postcode Lottery Dream Fund, which is annually awarded to charities for collaborative and innovative projects to support people in the UK and abroad.
Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People’s Postcode Lottery, said: “This project really encapsulates what Dream Fund is all about; two well established charities working together to benefit the community. Thanks to the support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery, each charity will be able to bring their own area of expertise to the table when someone goes missing, working together to reunite families.”
Members of the public can visit www.searchdogheroes.org.uk to find information and resources on keeping loved ones safe.