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Police in a small Iowa town received a distressing call earlier this month: A child had been missing for hours and searches had come up empty. Thankfully, prospective K-9 officer Pepper, barely even a year old, took all of five minutes to locate the missing kiddo.
On Aug. 16 at 8:15 p.m., police in Estherville, Iowa, received the distressing call from another agency requesting help to find the child. The little one had been missing for over two hours, despite members of the community who’d been out searching. Their hope was that the Dutch shepherd named Pepper who recently arrived at the Estherville Police Department could find the child before dark, as nightfall was quickly approaching.
The police department shared on Facebook that handler Sgt. Matthew Reineke arrived with Pepper at 8:43 p.m. at the last place the child was seen.
The duo then secured an item of the child’s clothing to help Pepper learn their scent in the hopes that she could track the smell to their whereabouts. Reineke says that Pepper sniffed the clothing for about 20 seconds and wasted no time, tracing the scent across the roadway, through a cornfield, and finally to a wooden fence line. She then worked along some tall grass near the fence before she located the lost kiddo.
“She went into the deep part of the fence line and stopped, which gave me some reason [to believe] that there was something there that has her attention,” Reineke told local radio station KIRL. “So I went to investigate, and sure enough it was the missing child.”
It was 8:48 p.m., just five minutes after Pepper and Reineke had arrived. The child was soon reunited with their family.
“It was a real nice feeling that the child was safe and unharmed and appeared to be in good health,” Reineke tells Daily Paws about the rescue. The whole story is even more amazing considering Pepper had only secured her “specialty” certification 13 days prior.
Reineke says that while most rescues don’t happen all the time that quickly, he and Pepper had some amazing luck in their first few days on the job together. “Sometimes [the scent] is muddied up by all the community members that were assisting to the point where it can’t be picked up,” he says. Reineke also says that it was fortunate Pepper was near enough to the child when she picked up the scent to find her in such a short amount of time.
K-9 dogs can be an invaluable resource in law enforcement, especially when it comes to tracking. Dogs offer a powerful sense of smell that can be used in many different ways… and are even able to sniff out tainted wine and identify COVID-19 on hospital visitors’ shoes!
Beyond serving as a colleague, Pepper is also a personal companion to Reineke. “We’re still in that phase of bonding, but she does live with me and comes home with me every night and comes to work with me every day,” he says. “So that relationship gets stronger and stronger the longer we’re able to work together.”
Pepper was sworn in as a K-9 officer on August 20. She joined the department in June, thanks to a KIRL fundraiser that funded her purchase, along with the in-depth training required to become a police dog. Reineke says that in his 22 years as a K-9 handler, Pepper is the fifth K-9 he’s worked with, and the second he’s personally trained.
After that stunning rescue in record time, we can only assume Pepper will continue to be successful in her new K-9 career.