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Sharolyn Sievert, trainer and search and rescue handler, has developed a deep bond with Ari during more than 10 years of training. (Amy Chaffins/Echo Press)

Furry 'hero' named to the Animal Hall of Fame

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When the harness and leash are on, Ari, an 11-year-old German shepherd, is all business.

His nose is down, ears are up, he’s ready. It’s his way of saying, “Let’s do this.”

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Ari is a veteran search and rescue dog, credited with about 50 searches during his 10-year career.

On Saturday, he was inducted into the Minnesota Veterinary Medical Association’s Animal Hall of Fame.

Ari’s owner and trainer, Sharolyn Sievert of Garfield, said, “The award is about the dog, it’s not so much about me. I’m so glad this happened when it did, that he’s here to receive the award because he earned it. I’m just kind of his chauffeur.”

Several people helped make Ari’s career a success, Sievert said, including her mentor, Wendy Deane, a K9 trainer in the Twin Cities.

Sievert said, “Without people like her, without the [Central Lakes Search and Rescue] unit, without my mom, he wouldn’t have won this, but it’s all about him, he’s the hero.”

Local veterinarian Dr. Dan Hartsell nominated Ari for the award.

He’s been a veterinarian for 32 years and said, “This is the first time I’ve done anything like this.”

Hartsell said it was Sievert’s novels about search and rescue K9s that prompted him to nominate Ari.

“I was just impressed to the max. This dog should really be recognized for his achievements because here I treat his illnesses and try to keep him as healthy as possible, but I really had no clue on how much this dog does all over the state ... he’s ready at a moment’s notice and so is Sharolyn. It dawned on me that this dog is really a hero for the stuff that he’s done.

“That dog is a remarkable animal,” he said.

ARI’S CAREER

Ari started in search and rescue when he was a year old.

“I needed to find him a job,” Sievert said. “He was so smart that if you didn’t give him something to do, he was finding something to do, and it usually was bad. He was very bored.”

Sievert trained with Ari, certifying him for scent specific area search of missing persons presumed to be alive, as well as human remains detection, both for land and water recovery.

“I helped teach him what he already knew how to do; I just channeled his abilities to find missing people,” she said.

Regarding the number of “finds” Ari has had over the years, Sievert said a successful search is when the dog does what it’s trained to do, which Ari did repeatedly during his career.

One of the most memorable searches was about two years ago, Sievert said, when they were called to search for a missing boater in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.

Sievert and Ari were paddled around a lake in a canoe and after the search Sievert was told that within minutes of dropping the video equipment down on the location of Ari’s last alert – the search dog’s way of saying, “that’s the spot” – law enforcement found the man in 90 feet of water.

“That’s a huge confirmation that the dog was right,” Sievert said. “That was toward the end of his career and I’ll never forget it. After he looked down [in the water] and looked back at me, he lay down and his job was done and knew it.”

Ari was retired about one year ago, but the old boy still goes along to train. Sievert said she doesn’t have the heart to leave him behind.

“He doesn’t know he’s retired,” Sievert added.

In retirement, Ari is still a search and rescue K9 ambassador and particularly shines, Sievert said, during events where children can get close and give him a hug.

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Amy Chaffins
Amy Chaffins is a journalist working for the Echo Press newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota.
(320) 763-3133
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