A dog that spent nearly three years assisting search and rescue operations before “vanishing” four days before Christmas has been reunited with her owner after an intensive six-day search that triggered an “outpouring of emotion.”
Juno, a German short-haired pointer, is a “family dog first and foremost” according to her owner, Ian Danks — but has spent much of the last three years as the only operational search and rescue dog of her type in East Anglia.
Since qualifying alongside Mr Danks, who is a qualified dog handler, trustee and team leader at the Norfolk Lowland Search and Rescue charity, Juno has been involved “a large number of local and regional high-profile missing people searches”, helping to return multiple vulnerable people to their loved ones while assisting in searches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
But she went missing while on a walk in Fritton Wood, near Norwich, on 21 December, after darting ahead from Mr Danks and his family into thick, tall reeds.
Over the next 48 hours, the search for Juno was “almost continuous”, Mr Danks said, with foot teams, thermal imaging cameras, drones and rescue boats all deployed to the area to find her amid “an outpouring of emotion” from both rescuers involved locally and those elsewhere across England.
“Because Juno is very specialised in what she does, we’ve been training all over the country, and I’ve had messages from people from all over the country that have seen her train,” Mr Danks, a 42-year-old RAF warrant officer, told The Independent, adding: “Everyone’s felt it because everyone knows exactly what Juno does and what sort of dog she is, and how much she means to us all as a team.”
But despite these extensive co-ordinated efforts, and social media posts now shared by more than 7,500 people, Juno remained missing over Christmas.
“It was awful,” said Mr Danks. “It’s always the little things – seeing her bed in front of the fire and she’s not in it. Seeing her toys lying around. It’s all the little things that became very emotionally stressful.”
After another large-scale operation on Monday morning, Juno was finally located by a drone, in a reed bed by the River Waveney, still wearing her hi-vis, waterproof dog coat.
A rescue boat was launched to retrieve her, carrying a dog handler trained in specialist water rescue missions who had previously met Juno, and who waded into the reeds and tempted her with dog biscuits before picking her up and bringing her to safety.
Despite spending six nights outside, an examination by veterinarians suggests that Juno has emerged relatively unscathed.
“She’s lost a bit of weight”, Mr Danks said. “The only real injuries she’s got is her feet are a bit swollen and there’s a lot of cuts on them, but apart from that she seems okay.
He plans to treat her with leftover Christmas turkey, “but not a lot because I need to wean her back onto food”.
With most of those involved in the rescue operation having known, trained with or worked with Juno previously, Mr Danks described a sense of widespread relief at her discovery, saying: “There’s been a few tears this week anyway. But when everyone found out that she’d been found ... one of our team members has just arrived in Dubai – she burst into tears.”
Mr Danks hailed the “massive sacrifice” made regularly by the individuals and teams involved in the search, which included voluntary lowland search and rescue teams from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridge, Kent and Buckinghamshire, in addition to volunteers from the Red Cross, and the Norfolk and Suffolk 4x4 Response team during Mondays operation.
“That is the culture and the foundation which lowland rescue lives by, in that the support to the local community in their time of need is what makes lowland rescue and [the National Search and Rescue Dog Association] special,” Mr Danks said.
He added: “Without that teamwork between all of those different organisations, I wouldn’t have got Juno back ... I think she’d still be out there on the marshes.”
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