2015 FSSA’s Service Dog Winner
FSSA Service Dog of the Year Award
Owner: Andrew Stehling
Nominated by Sidney Wilcox
Breeders: Robert Bruce
Monday April 16, 2013: Pam Boyer emailed me (the lady must never delete her emails) to call
her. She may have a puppy for me. I was on the phone before the ink was dry on the screen.
He was a 7 month old liver rescue. I was in Driggs on Wednesday. Pam said that he had
traveled from Robert Bruce in Texas where he was born, to a young couple in West Virginia
who split soon after, to Salt Lake City and finally Driggs, Idaho.
I named him “Riffle” after the little waves that guide you as you Kayak down the river. The Idaho
Mountain Search and Rescue Unit (IMSARU) and the K9 team was the answer. We would get
to be outdoors and Riffle could now help rescue humans to honor those who had helped him as
a puppy. The 140 all-volunteer member IMSARU Unit - and the nine member K9 team within - is
as dedicated and serious about their work as any group that I have encountered.
The IMSARU Unit meets every Tuesday evening for two to three hours hours and dedicates one
full weekend day to field work per month. It takes a minimum of one year to earn your “Search
Specialist” rocker. The requirements include having 24 hour and 72 hour packs and
demonstrating that you can “self-sustain” in the wilderness. Training in GPS, Maps, Compass,
CPR, wilderness first aid, helicopter operations, radio operations, search techniques, base
operations, patient packaging, and much more. I achieved by Specialist rocker in November
As a K9 team we formally train at least twice a week (one evening and one weekend day) - read
and watch everything rescue or dog related, go to seminars, certifications (such as CGC and
helicopter), strive for excellence and advancement, and have the most amazing animals. The
path to National Certification is not easy and usually takes at least eighteen months.
Our assessments allowed use to choose from pursuing any of the major K9 SAR disciplines.
Open Water, Trailing, Human Remains, Cadaver, or Air Scenting. I chose our first endeavor to
be “wilderness live air scenting” as this was my first professional handler attempt. For the next
year, Riffle and I trained for hundreds of hours. All types of weather and terrain and
circumstances. People in caves, in trees, under brush, in outbuildings, walking, in groups,
purposely eluding (as an Autistic child might do) around wildlife and so on. Every scenario that
we may encounter. May 8th, 2014 was the big day - our field test attempt for National
Certification by the National Search Dog Alliance (NSDA). As perquisites I had to provide my
human and canine medical achievement certificates, training logs for review, pass five written
Federal FEMA tests, and pass two NSDA written tests that required completing a reading list of
thirteen books. On the day of the field test I was told to go to a location in the mountains with
Riffle. There we were met by three evaluators (two from Montana) that did not know us. I was
given a map of a 160 acres of wilderness area that I had never seen before. I was told that
there were two subjects in this area and we must find them both within three hours. I also had
to demonstrate the derivation of my search plan, knowledge of scent theory, announce my
moves to the evaluators, ensure that they, and Riffle, and the subjects were hydrated and
otherwise well. I put on Riffle’s vest and my backpack and off we set. In an incredible one hour
and twenty minutes later, we were finished. He may well be the first ever Nationally Certified
SAR Field Spaniel. We have been on a number of missions over the last seven months. Two of
them were true full scale K9 deployments and Riffle proved his grit. Riffle truly ranges and
hunts for scent and never stops. He has proven to be our most durable and difficult terrain dog.