Newman’s very own general maintenance technician Robert Crossland is a part of a K-9 search and rescue team along with his furry friend Bella Luna.
Crossland is SARTECH II certified and his dog Bella Luna, a Belgian Malinois, is certified as a human remains detection (HDR) dog.
According to the National Association for Search and Rescue, the SARTECH II level of certification is the intermediate level for search and rescue (SAR) personnel. This level is recommended for any person who functions on SAR missions as field searchers, and requires both a written exam as well as CPR and wilderness first aid certifications.
As an HDR dog, 3-year-old Bella Luna helps law enforcement and other public agencies in their search for missing persons on land. When Bella Luna locates the person, she sits to indicate the find and waits for Crossland to arrive.
Crossland said after Bella Luna locates the find, he rewards her with her favorite ball or a liver treat.
“It’s always important to reward her after a find because on a search there are a lot of emotions such as anxiety and dogs can sense that,” Crossland said. “So rewarding them is a positive way to show them they did good.”
Rising to the K-9 search team challenge
Together Crossland and Bella Luna have completed five SAR missions — the furthest being near Table Rock, Nebraska.
Crossland said that he and Bella Luna are always on call, and have to be prepared at a moment’s notice.
At a previous job as a mechanic, Crossland once received the urgent call while he was underneath a car, changing the car’s oil.
“They told me to be at the Sedgwick County Emergency Communications Center as soon as I could,” Crossland explained. “I had to pretty much leave my job right then and there and run home to change my clothes and grab Bella.”
Crossland keeps a backpack with emergency gear close by to be prepared no matter what.
A worthwhile investment
Crossland and Bella Luna started their training when she was 7 months old and she was officially certified after she turned 1 year old. He loves what he does, but parenting a K-9 search unit isn’t always a walk in the park, as it can require both time and monetary investments.
After reading a survey that 90% of police K-9 deaths are caused by rear-end car accidents, Crossland decided to invest in a crash-resistant kennel for Bella Luna. He even purchased a $15,000 car with room to fit the special kennel.
“The kennel has a little back door that can fold in, so if it gets crumpled up from behind I can kick that door in and she can jump out,” Crossland said.
Crossland and Bella Luna train together three times a week, anywhere from an hour to more than seven hours. Every year Crossland also pays more than $100 for Bella Luna’s recertification.
Being prepared with special gear is an important factor to Crossland’s volunteer role and ensuring that Bella Luna stays safe and healthy.
His personal gear includes mud boots, a helmet equipped with a light, anti-snake pads, shovels, fans, walking sticks, bug spray and tick spray. For Bella Luna, Crossland keeps a life vest as well as a cooling vest for her during the summer.
Dedication to community service
Crossland said he is passionate about bringing families closure by searching for their missing relatives.
“I was kind of a rough kid growing up, I did a lot of stupid stuff,” Crossland said. “I barely graduated high school and didn’t go to college. Then I had kids and I’m like ‘Well, I need to do something so my kids can be proud of me.’ I always wanted one of these dogs and I was like ‘Well, if I can get into search and rescue, I can give back to my community and my kids can be proud of me.’”
He added, “Then of course my dog will have a job and won’t go crazy chewing up the couch and the TV and everything else.”
Being part of a K-9 search team can be time-consuming with the hours spent training, work and call-outs that can happen at any time. Crossland said he is glad and lucky to be working at Newman, as unlike the other jobs he has had, he is able to use volunteer hours during working hours as his availability allows.
“I’ve been really lucky to have employee volunteer hours at Newman,” Crossland said. “I started this job in January and I’ve been on three call-outs during work hours and I got paid for those times off.”
“It’s just nice to be able to have that kind of generosity here,” Crossland added.
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