Working Dog in Training With Local Fire Chief
Photographer / Amy Counts
Jeremy Pell, fire chief for the White River Township Fire Department, has trained search dogs for more than eight years. His instructor and mentor suggested Pell find a new working dog. The pair were on the lookout across the United States for a suitable dog.
“I told one of my friends at search training that if God intended for me to have a dog, he would drop one in my backyard,” Pell says. “Lo and behold, I see a news article that afternoon about a dog named Roadie who was abandoned in Johnson County.”
Roadie was left with a note on her collar saying her dad couldn’t take care of her because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Animal Control picked up Roadie and made contact with Pell, given his role in the fire department.
“I went to see her and did some tests with her to see her viability for search work,” Pell says. “In September 2020, I adopted her.”
Pell wasn’t fond of the name Roadie, so he changed the shepherd mix’s name to Rosie.
“I thought it was close enough that it wouldn’t be a big change for her,” Pell says.
Pell is currently training the two-and-a-half-year-old dog to find human remains, and lost individuals who are missing but still alive.
“I’m training her part time, which is difficult,” Pell says. “The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office has been very supportive. Rosie has already participated in one school safety talk in Edinburgh. Both have been very supportive of Rosie and her training.”
Pell likes to bring dogs to school training because the dogs seem to capture the children’s attention.
“We talk about the things Rosie is trained to do,” Pell says. “We talk about safety and do demonstrations with her. We tell the kids if they pay attention during the discussion, Rosie will play hide-and-seek with them. Those kids just light up, and you can tell you have their undivided attention.”
Rosie lives with Pell and his family, including his two dogs.
“She’s a big baby,” Pell says. “She has her own space and her own toys. She’s sort of the top dog in the family right now. They all get along great. Luna is a Doberman pinscher, and she’s a certified dog. Ruby is about the same age as Rosie, and she’s in training as well. Ruby and Rosie are great playmates.”
The White River Fire Department joined Project Lifesaver in 2009. Project Lifesaver is an international not-for-profit organization whose primary mission is to use locating technology to search and rescue people with cognitive disorders.
“Liam Price is a local teen on the autism spectrum,” Pell says. “He’s worked with us since he was much younger. Recently, he came on to work with us as an intern. He’s spent some time with Rosie doing some obedience training. I really hope to find a way for Liam to share his experiences with the kids in this area using Rosie as a teaching tool.”
Price enjoys the time he’s spent with Rosie so far.
“She listens to me pretty well,” Price says. “I’ll be working with her all summer. We’re working on commands for search and rescue. I’m studying communications at the University of Indianapolis. I’m hoping to focus on public speaking in fire departments and police departments. I want to give speeches on what can be done to improve their communities.”
Pell is impressed by Price’s immediate bond with Rosie.
“I have taught obedience for a very, very long time,” Pell says. “I’ve seen people and dogs interact, and they took to each other immediately. He had her attention, her eye contact, and she walked with him. It was incredible to watch.”
Typically, fire departments utilize dogs as accelerant detection dogs.
“Fortunately for our department, we don’t have many intentionally set fires, so we’ve never really utilized dogs in that way,” Pell says. “What we do have a lot of is people with dementia or cognitive issues who wander away. For Rosie to be used in this way is extremely innovative. I hope that Rosie will save a life or bring some comfort to a family who has lost a loved one.”
Rosie visits the fire station a few days per week and has quickly made friends there as well.
“An awful lot of people light up when she bounds into the room,” Pell says. “When she sees me get her leash and collar, she gets excited knowing we’re going to work. She runs right in to see all her friends. They sure seem to love her.”
Pell credits local agencies for Rosie’s success.
“What really makes Johnson County special is how everyone has worked together on this,” Pell says. “Everyone, from animal control to the fire department to the sheriff’s office to the schools, has worked together so that Rosie has come full circle from being left tied to a tree to becoming a hard-working dog.”
For more information, visit wrtfd.org.