Training Canine Heroes
When someone goes missing in California and county sheriffs need help, they just might call in Derek Koonce and his partner, Belle. She is a highly trained search-and-rescue dog.
Over the years, Koonce and Belle [see photo], or his previous dog, Tasha, have taken part in more than two dozen missing person missions, with several happy endings.
ELECTRONIC DESIGN ENGINEER
The IEEE member became curious about search-and-rescue dogs in 1985 while on a skiing trip. “I saw a ski patroller with a search dog coming down the slopes and thought it looked interesting,” recalls Koonce, who is an electrical engineer at Aerometals, an aircraft parts manufacturer in El Dorado Hills, Calif.
Koonce decided to get involved, so he joined the National Ski Patrol and took some classes. Eager to work with rescue dogs, Koonce began asking around and was pointed to the California Rescue Dogs Association (CARDA), a volunteer organization that trains, certifies, and dispatches search-dog teams. That’s when he decided it was time to take the next step and get a dog.
His wife picked out their first dog, Tasha, a Labrador/German shepherd mix. Koonce and Tasha attended CARDA’s search-and-rescue training several times a week for the next two years. Koonce learned how to work with Tasha in a search-and-rescue situation. For example, he’d have her sniff a personal item of the missing person or command her verbally to find a human scent if nothing personal was available, and then Tasha would trail the scent. She also learned to communicate with Koonce by barking or pulling him toward whatever she had found. Once Tasha received her certification, Koonce began receiving calls from CARDA for help.
His most memorable mission, he says, was the first time he and Tasha found a missing person. In July 1998, Koonce and Tasha were called to Blackstone Canyon, just north of San Francisco, to search for an 80-year-old woman who had disappeared during a walk. After hours of searching, Tasha caught a scent and worked her way up a nearby canyon, where she found a figure lying on the ground. It was the woman, unconscious. “It was an incredible feeling,” Koonce recalls. “All the training and hours of hard work paid off that day.” The woman later recovered.
Koonce lost his beloved partner to old age in 2006, after 20 missions. It was difficult to move on, but he began training Belle, a black Labrador/golden retriever who got her certification in May and has already been on several missions.
“Working with Tasha and Belle has made me realize how unbelievably intelligent dogs are,” Koonce says.
A string of coincidences more than four decades ago led IEEE Life Fellow Eli Brookner to photography, his longtime hobby. When Brookner had a layover in Hawaii on his way to the 1964 IEEE Information Theory Conference in Tokyo, he ran into a local who had just returned from Japan. The man gave Brookner a shopping tip: Buy a Nikon F camera in Tokyo because it was half the U.S. price.
It sounded like a good deal, so when he landed, Brookner did just that. He didn’t know how to best use the camera, however. But while doing some sightseeing on a bus going from Osaka to Kyoto before the conference, Brookner struck up a conversation with another passenger who happened to be a professional photographer.
“He was on assignment for a National Geographic article on U.S. troop exercises in Guam and was spending the weekend sightseeing in Japan,” says Brookner, who works for Raytheon, in Sudbury, Mass. When the engineer explained that he had just bought a new camera, the photographer invited Brookner to join him.
“It was quite an experience to see how a professional photographer operates,” he says, adding that the lessons he learned have stuck with him. “He was continually taking pictures, so I learned that if you want to end up with a few good photos, you need to take lots of them.”
The photographer gave him tips on which lenses to use for different types of shots. Brookner bought several, including a telephoto lens for shooting close-up portraits of people from a distance—which wound up being his favorite type of photography. His work has been exhibited at several of Raytheon’s U.S. offices and at galleries throughout Massachusetts. His photos of radars have appeared on the covers of books, conference proceedings, and technical magazines including Scientific American.
The Kyoto trip also made Brookner realize he had another passion: travel. He enjoys teaching courses around the world on radar and phased arrays, based on his four books, which include Radar Technology (Artech House, 1977).
Brookner has taken photographs in more than 35 countries. Among his favorite locations are Papua, New Guinea, where he photographed indigenous people; Singapore, where he shot a body-piercing event, part of the annual Thaipusam festival; Shemya, Alaska, where he photographed World War II artifacts and a Raytheon Cobra Dane radar; and Bali, Indonesia, where he photographed a cremation, which he describes as “a happy event representing the passing of the deceased into the afterlife.”
“When I took a close-up of the burning bier, one of the relatives urged me to take more photos to make sure I got a good shot,” Brookner says, recalling that tip he received so many years ago.
If you have an interesting hobby you would like to share, e-mail the editors: firstname.lastname@example.org.