Ace, an energetic and rambunctious 5-year-old Dutch Shepherd, was adopted by Ray Lau. Ray knew that Ace had the potential to be a great Search and Rescue volunteer dog. Little did Ray know how quickly Ace would rise to the challenge.
In late December 2008, a severe snowstorm lasting several days hit Ancaster, Ontario. It was one of the worst snowstorms the city had experienced in recent years; residents were told to stay at home, wait for the storm to pass, and avoid driving. During the height of the storm, a 55-year old woman was reported missing by her family. Police found her half buried, abandoned vehicle in a field on the side of a rural road one day after she was reported missing, but her whereabouts remained unknown. The community was deeply concerned and with each passing day the Hamilton Police Search and Rescue (SAR) team feared the worst.
Staff Sergeant Mark Cox of the Hamilton Police Services SAR unit was the lead search Manager coordinating the extensive search. After a day-and-a-half with no leads, he welcomed more SAR volunteers, including Ray Lau and Ace. This was Ace’s first real search.
Ray and Ace were three hours into their search when Ace suddenly bolted away, giving indication that he had detected a human scent, as he had been taught to do during his intensive weekly training exercises. Ray watched as Ace zoned in on the source of the human scent, which to him looked like a snow covered field. Ace ran through the deep snow at full speed for roughly 75 meters. Then, he stopped suddenly, lowered his head, and started barking repeatedly into the snow. Ray ran up to Ace’s side to see what he was barking at. Looking down, Ray saw a face peeking out from the snow. After three days, the missing woman had been found.
Ray braced himself for the worst, expecting to be the bearer of bad news, but to everyone’s relief the woman buried under the snow was still alive and conscious. Ray reassured her that help was on the way, cleared away the snow, and covered her with his jacket, while contacting the command centre. Medical emergency personnel quickly arrived on scene, and the woman was rushed to the hospital. She had managed to survive 72 hours in frigid temperatures, during a horrific snowstorm, trapped underneath almost a meter of snow. Had Ace not found her when he did, the outcome would have been tragic.
One might say Ace was destined for his new found role as a Search and Rescue dog. In such a short time, Ace has proven himself a dedicated partner, an excellent worker, a lifesaver and ultimately, a hero. He was able to accomplish what searchers over the course of three days could not: locate a missing woman and save her life. Ace demonstrated his true purpose that day – to save others just as Ray had saved him.