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DALLAS -- When a car was found abandoned along a highway in Grayson County a few years ago, sheriff's deputies had no idea how it got there - or what had become of the owner, an elderly man from Arlington.
A ground and air search turned up nothing.
That's when the dogs of Search One Rescue Team were called in.
Near a ravine, in a culvert under U.S. Highway 82, Bojangles, a black and brown bloodhound, found the man semiconscious and dehydrated. Had the team been dispatched any later, the man might not have survived.
Similar success stories have earned Bojangles, his handler and their teammates recognition from law enforcement agencies across the state - and beyond.
The Coppell-based team is a volunteer organization that operates in conjunction with - and at no charge to - government agencies. It has 33 members, who care for 22 dogs.
Search One's executive director is Paul Lake, who founded the group in 1983. The team searches for missing people and human remains. Members have helped in criminal investigations and in disaster rescues, including after Hurricanes Katrina and Ike.
Recently they helped detectives track a serial rapist in Dallas. The dogs and their handlers also searched for clues in the murder of a 67-year-old Cedar Hill woman.
It was the first time Cedar Hill police called on Search One.
"I would strongly, strongly recommend them," said police Sgt. Robert Nelson. He said he couldn't discuss the bloodhounds' contribution because the case hasn't been prosecuted.
But, he said, "the dogs are absolutely amazing. I would definitely use these guys at the drop of a hat in a similar situation."
Mr. Lake remembers a "long road" for his canine corps over the last 25 years.
"The mentality in law enforcement was, 'Let's do everything we can, and when we give up [on the investigation], let's call,'" he said. But nowadays, Search One often is brought in at the start of a case.
"We are being looked at as a first resource instead of a last," he said. "What we look for is human scent. That scent deteriorates with time, weather and contamination."
When the team conducts a search, it's an orchestrated process akin to forensic science.
On a recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Lake and several volunteers - in bright orange T-shirts, black work pants and boots - gathered in a wooded area near Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. Anxious dogs barked from their crates as their handlers were briefed on the day's training missions.
Bojangles, his handler, David Daniel, and volunteer Sue Daniel set out to find a "victim" lost in the woods - another volunteer, Ron Patterson. The hunt began once Bojangles got a whiff of Mr. Patterson's eyeglass case.
With planes roaring overhead, Bojangles waded through thick brush, bobbing his head feverishly, his long ears and droopy jowls swaying. Then he quickly turned his head to the right - a signal that he was on to something.
The pace picked up. Bojangles knew he was getting close.
Then, the find! He rushed over to the "victim" and got his reward: high praise and a couple of Vienna sausages.
The dogs' abilities are at the center of what Search One does now, but they weren't always on the team.
Mr. Lake moved to Dallas in 1980 from Alabama. He'd been pursuing a career in architecture, but law enforcement and emergency services were "in his blood," he said. His older brother was in law enforcement for 35 years.
He handpicked people for a volunteer search management team after gauging the interest of local law enforcement agencies. It wasn't until a few years later that a military veteran showed them how dogs could improve the operation.
"We've been a search/dog team ever since," Mr. Lake said.
In addition to bloodhounds, the team employs Labrador retrievers and German shepherds.
Mr. Lake said more than 120 law enforcement agencies have requested their services, and they average about four searches a month.
"They're all about trying to help us," said Lt. Craig Miller, head of the Dallas Police Department's homicide unit.
"They're so easy to work with. They're extremely useful."