TONAWANDA, N.Y. -- A golden retriever rescue dog named Barney and his human partner took time out on their vacation from the Baltimore County Fire Department to help the Tonawanda police find the body of a drowned man in the Erie Barge Canal last week.
Barney managed in a few minutes of work Wednesday to pick up the scent of the body lying on the canal bottom -- 20 feet down -- and started barking and snapping at the water.
The victim, Richard Collard, 22, of Eggertsville, N.Y., had fallen from the back of a boat. A nearly daylong search by 12 divers from the Tonawanda Underwater Rescue Team had been futile until Barney's arrival.
"These dogs, especially Barney, will just amaze you," said the dog's handler, Baltimore County Fire Lt. Daniel Kluge. "I'm real glad Barney had a chance to prove himself up there and really glad the Tonawanda police gave him the chance to prove himself."
Lieutenant Kluge was visiting his mother near Tonawanda Wednesday evening when he heard a news report about the missing boater and volunteered Barney's help. The dog lives with the lieutenant at all times, even on vacation. "Barney's a member of the family," he said.
Aboard a small boat, Barney was taken to an area about 800 feet long and 90 feet wide where Mr. Collard was believed to have fallen into the canal. The boat's gasoline-powered engine had been replaced with a small electric motor so it would not disturb the dog's sense of smell.
On the canal shore, Tonawanda Detective Lt. Thomas Geerkin was skeptical that a dog could sniff out a drowning victim. "I'd never heard of such a thing, but I thought let's give it a try," he said.
Lieutenant Geerkin said he began to believe in Barney as he watched the dog in action. Then Thursday morning, the body was found near the spot where Barney had barked.
"The dog made a solid contribution to the investigation," Lieutenant Geerkin said.
Three-year-old Barney and a female 3-year-old black Labrador retriever named Mattie belong to the first search-dog unit in the nation established by a career fire department, said Lieutenant Kluge, a 12-year veteran of the department who lives in Perryville.
The unit was formed four years ago because police "had found that the tactical team members were spending a great deal of time locating the victims in, say, a collapsed building, and that dogs, once trained, could immediately lead you to the victim," he said.
"We also found that a well-trained dog could actually tell the handler if the person being searched for was alive or dead," Lieutenant Kluge said.
"With Barney, for example, when he locates a live person, he will start to dig frantically and bark. If it's a dead person, he'll just try to dig.
"The body movements of the dog, when it's a dead person, will manifest in depressed signs, such as ears going down and the tail not wagging."
Once when Barney found a 2-year-old drowning victim, he became depressed for two days, the lieutenant said. To snap the dog out of his slump, he used his two daughters, Melissa, 10, and Laura, 7, in "live searches," Lieutenant Kluge said.
"I would let Barney search out my daughters, who would hide," he said. "When he found them alive, it would perk him right back up. These dogs are amazing."
Lieutenant Kluge said the unit was started with a $5,000 grant from NCNB Corp., now known as NationsBank, and has spent only $20,000 in operational costs, with $4,000 of that coming from the county and the balance from private donations.
The dogs' handlers give them food and shelter, and Dr. Kim Hammond of the Falls Road Animal Hospital provides free veterinary services, Lieutenant Kluge said.
Miami's Metro Dade Fire Department and the Phoenix Fire Department have patterned dog search units after Baltimore County's.
"Barney has proven his worth to those of us who work out in the field but he is still proving himself to the administration in the department. There are a lot of skeptics out there," said Capt. Colin Stem of the Eastview station where Barney and Lieutenant Kluge work.
"But what's happening up there in Tonawanda is just another feather in Barney's hat."