Search and rescue volunteers and K9s from across Alaska participated in a statewide water rescue training in the Mat-Su Valley over the weekend.


The volunteer groups “MATSARK9” from the Mat-Su, “Seadogs” from Juneau and “Paws” from Fairbanks sent teams to practice detecting drowning victims in lakes and rivers.


“You’ll see her reaction when she catches a scent,” explained Marty Williams with Paws — as his dog Maya started to work.


A source of human scent was hidden in the water to simulate a drowning victim.


“I like the river, because, if there was a person actually drowned in here, we know they’re not going upstream,” said Williams.


The teams got help from the Mat-Su Dive Team earlier in the weekend, while they were practicing in a lake setting.


No one is paid to attend the training, or go on search and rescue missions. They do it simply because they want to help.


“You always feel good when you find somebody, whether they’re dead or alive, because that can give the family closure, or it can save somebody’s life,” explained Kerry Kirkpatrick with Seadogs in Juneau.


Some volunteers bring veteran search dogs, and others are just getting started.


“Deceased human scent is all new to them, so they’re learning and handlers are learning how to watch their dog, how to read their dog,” said Kirkpatrick.


Maya has been doing the search and rescues with Williams for eight years. They work together like a well-oiled machine. Once she alerts him that she’s picked up the scent, they get closer. Eventually, she leads them to where divers will take over.


Every dog gets a treat and playtime with a favorite toy for a job well done. The goal is to stay sharp, so the next time they’re on a real search mission, they can find and help the victim as soon as possible.