Anatomy of a Search…

Posted: June 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

The cell phone rings at 6:45 pm.  I don’t recognize the number, but it’s local.  “Robert Vaughan speaking, how can I help you?”

“Mr. Vaughan, this is Mr. Leonard Harris, I’m the Administrator of the GreenVale Care facility.  I have your number as a contact for lost and missing person searches.  Can you help me?”

“I can try Mr. Harris.”  Calls that start this way worry me for the simple reason that most Elder care facilities DO NOT have protocols for residents that become lost or walkaway.  I become the protocol…

“We’ve apparently had a resident walk away this afternoon and we can’t locate him…”   I cut him off quickly at this statement.

“Have you called the police?” 

“Well…” he hesitates, “We’d like to see if we can find him ourselves before starting a panic…The family is here and helping us.  The gentleman has a history of going on long, aimless, walks.  He has Alzhiemers, but he gets around fine.  They think he’s just gone on a long walk…But he does need medication and he’s overdue.”

   “I’ll be there in 15 minutes and we can discuss the details Mr. Harris…”

I hang up the phone and immediately dial the Chief of Police.  It’s  CVK-9RG   Policy to inform whatever jurisdiction we are going into  that we have been called and what we have been told.  It’s called Professional Courtesy, with the added benefit of building Trust with Law Enforcement authorities.  My work never supercedes that of Law Enforcement.  The fact that some medical facilities don’t have protocol for missing people always shocks me…The Chief thanks me and asks for whatever details I receive.  He also reminds me to call 911 if the situation becomes more serious than just an elderly man with wanderlust.  Then he thanks me, as this suburb doesn’t have a K-9 unit due to budgetary problems, and he has no other way to employ a K-9.

My Go bag is already packed, as it always is.  As I pull the harness off it’s  hook, my cinder black German Shepherd Hans jumps up with a light in his eyes.  “Time to work, Hans!”  He puts his head down so that I can slip the harness over him easily.  We’ve practiced this motion 50,000 times I swear.  He’s ready, and we jump into the car.  I break a rule of mine, and dial the phone as I’m driving.  The other two members of the team are both at work I know, but I inform them of the Call-out anyway.  If they can join me, I’ll be glad for the help, but we’ve all been forced to go solo at times.  This is one of those times…

  Arriving at the facility, the administrator and the daughter of the missing gentleman meet me at the door.  Mr. Harris introduces me to the lady who is in her 50’s I guess.  “This is Mr. Kliens daughter, Karen Arlen.”

“Nice to meet you Mrs. Arlen…I’m here to help you if I can…Mr. Klien is your father’s name?”

“Thank you for coming so soon…Yes, Lawrence Klien is my Dad.  He’s a wanderer, and he’s done this many times.  We’d hoped that being here would have slowed him down, but when he wants to walk, he walks.  I’ve gotten very frustrated by it…”  The frustration and anger were apparent in her voice. 

“I understand that…I’ve also lived with an elderly parent that disappears at a whim.  We’ll do our best…Do you have a photo of him, and an article of recently worn clothing, a sock, a shirt, anything?”

“Yes, lets walk down to his room…”

  The daughter doesn’t seem overly worried that something might have happened to her father, so the tension is somewhat relieved.  He’s only been gone 3 hours, and the weather is nice.  This seems like a very simple assist at this point.  Hans and I will take a walk, and find the gentleman on a park bench somewhere.  I hope.

Mr. Klien, as it turns out, is 83 years old and in otherwise very good physical condition.  Sadly, his Alzhiemers is progressing at a sharp pace, and he rarely knows what day it is…His daughter gives us a white sock that he had on, possibly last night.  That should be fresh enough, but I’d love something newer…”Do you know which door he probably left thru?

The administrator informs me that he exited thru a door on the west side of the building.  He is clearly embarassed about this situation, and keeps saying that the staff needs to be more watchful of the residents.  Hopefully he is embarassed enough to follow thru.

   The door looks out on a freshly cut lawn with a ring of trees 20 yards distant.  It’s a solid wall, so our subject probably didn’t cut thru there.  That’s called “funneling”, and you can tell alot about where someone goes by the obstacles that funnel his movement.  “Okay, we’ll start here.  Let me get my partner…”  I go to the car and let Hans out of his crate.  He jumps out, anxious to play with the orange ball in my hand, his favorite reward for a job well done.  This is his most effective motivator, and we use it everytime we are called.  I slip the ball into a hidden pocket and address the dog.  “Work Hans…Work”.  I snap the long lead into his harness and we go to the door, that our subject exited.  There I produce the sock for him to sniff.  The daughter, the Administrator, and several employees are crowded around that exit wanting to see the “…big beautiful dog”,  “Is he a Labrador?  “I used to have a dog that could sniff out his next meal…”     The comments are almost always the same, and I’ll bring Hansie back later for a meet and greet.  But it’s time for him to work, and his drive has kicked in…this is no time to meet people.   I put the sock in Hans’ big wet snout, and tell him,  “Such, (sook=Search)  Hans, Such for man”…

    The dog wanders in a small area near the grassy edge of the sidewalk, but his nose isn’t yet on the ground.  He stops to piddle on a bush, and I laugh at this “break in protocol”.  He’s not supposed to relieve himself on a track, but when you gotta go…

Immediately after, I give the Such command again and his wet nose hits the ground searching for scent trace.  His tail is high above his body as he sniffs deeply on the sidewalk edge.  Then his long tail drops straight down, and we are off on a scent.  He’s keyed into something, all I have to do now is watch him for indications. 

The first point of questioning the track comes at a 4 way stop street in the quiet nieghborhood, less than 1000 ft from the facility.  I know the distance because I wear a pedometer to measure that information.  Hans sniffs a Stop sign pole up and down several times.  Maybe the man leaned on the pole, I don’t know.  Then the dog goes to a spot in the grass and indicates.  It appears that Mr. Klien may have sat here for at least a short time.  His general direction of travel seems toward the downtown area, perhaps a half mile distant.  But this route would put him crossing over the river on a busy bridge with a narrow walkway.  Not a great place for an elderly person.  But I don’t hear sirens in the air, so he’s probably safe if he did cross there.

Hans picks up the scent on the opposite side of the street and begins moving rapidly in an arrow straight course.  Toward the river.  Hopefully, Mr. Klien goes up the sidewalk to access the crossing, and not down the small gulley to the south.  It’s a washout filled with trees, sharp rocks, and trash from so much recent high water.  Fencing it off might help, but the city doesn’t seem to think it’s a big problem.  Kids use it as a shortcut to the crossing, but if an elderly man fell here, it wouldn’t help him.

Sure enough, the trail goes to the edge of the washout.  Hans sweeps back and forth 3 or 4 times at the edge with his nose.  Apparently our subject wasn’t sure he wanted to try this path himself…But, in short order, Hans  dives over the edge himself, with me doing my best to keep up.  There’s no evidence that anyone took a fall, and the dog tracks  straight thru.  We exit the washout onto the sidewalk over the bridge.  Hans sweeps the sidewalk once and starts crossing.  A car-load of teenagers crosses near us, horn beeping and radio blasting.  This is the seniors last day of school, so the ruckus is not surprising.  Hans acts as though the track is the only thing in his world…Good boy!

  Apparently Mr. Klien has made it across successfully and continued toward the small park on the west side of town.  It’s a pleasant place to sit on a warm spring day.  Hopefully he will be there on a bench.  I’m not sure that the man’s daughter thought he would cross the road, or she would have searched here I’m sure. 

Hans continues to lead me through the old downtown section of the city.  It has a plesant area with water fountains and outdoor cafe’s.  Surely someone has seen the gentleman…I stop and ask at a Pet-grooming shop we pass, but they see alot of people pass by…As we reach the fountains, the dog takes a 90 degree turn onto a small knoll of grass off the plaza area.  Again it appears that the subject has sat down here to rest.  We’ve been following this twisting trail for 45 minutes now, having traveled just over a mile. 

The track now changes direction to the east, following a small unpaved pathway that leads to a boardwalk that leads to a controlled wetland.  The river runs thru this section, and the smells from the downtown cafe’s permeate this area.  Hans is really panting, and we stop for a drink.  He has learned to drink right out of a Camelback unit that I carry for him, so water is never a problem.  I wet his big nose and scratch his head and resume the “Such” command.  Hansie takes off toward the boardwalk at a brisk walk.  He leads me to the boardwalk entrance and stops, transfixed by something I don’t yet see.  He takes off head held high, sniffing the air now, confident of his goal.  After about 150 feet, we round the corner in the boardwalk, and see a man sitting on the bench built there.  Hans gives me a sharp “Found him” bark, and we slowly approach the gentleman.  I don’t want the big,black moose to startle him…From the photo, it’s obviously our subject, Mr. Klien.  He is just sitting, with his eyes closed.  “Mr. Klien?  Is that you?” I ask while Hans tries to knock me over with his tail.

   He opens his eyes, (Thank God for that) and looks at us.  “Do I know you?”

   “No, you don’t sir…my name is Robert and this is Hans, my dog.  Your daughter is looking for you, and so is the staff at the CareHome.  You kinda took a surprise walk on them.”

“So what…?  Can’t a man walk?  I’m going to my house now.”  he sounded angry at my intrusion now.

Not wanting to anger him I followed training and let him talk.  “Where’s your house Mr. Klien?”

His reply was sharp, “Council Bluffs, Iowa on Thurston street.  But I think I’m lost…Do you know where we are?”

“Yeah, I think I can help you…”   I pulled my cell phone out and dialed the daughters number and let her know where we were.  I don’t know if she was relieved he wasn’t hurt or more that she could put an end to this inconvenience now, and go back to her day.


   That’s what some  searches are like…no camera’s, no command centers, just people that need help.  The daughter arrived and took her father back to his care facility.  She Thanked me, and scritched Hanson the head, and pushed her father away in a wheelchair.  Hans and I played with his toy for a half an hour and drove home.  The Administrator called me later and thanked us over and over.  He then invited us to a meet and greet later in the week so that other employees could see Hans. (I’m chopped-liver LOL!!!)  I called the police chief and left him a message, so that he wouldn’t be uninformed as well.  I really love doing this…But it’s not glamorous.  Just a dog and his handler helping people that need it.


  1. Tessa B says:

    Amazing story and extremely well written. Keep up the awesome work. I look forward to more stories like this.

  2. Susan Webster says:

    Great job Robert and Hans!!! I can so relate to this story. Both my parents had alzheimers and in 1 week left their senior living home 3 times in other people’s cars who were giving them a lift to their old house. Unfortunately, they no longer had a house but were living in the assisted living section of a senior living home. Of course, after escaping three times they were moved into the skilled nursing/alzheimer’s unit where they wore special bracelets with lock down doors. We were shocked that people would give them rides and they could just walk away so easily.. It is a very scarey situation that needs to get corrected at these homes. Thank God there are people like you Robert to help and of course Hans too!!!! Great story about life!!!

  3. I agree with you Hope, I have been telling him to write a book for a LONG time!! You too Kim!! It is a good thing Robert and Hans were there to help!!
    Great nose!!

  4. Awesome Robert! You and Hansie sure are a great team! You’re absolutely right – the care facilities often don’t have protocol in place to keep these kinds of things from happening. Good thing they had you!

  5. Hope Lozzio says:

    I ❤ hearing stories like this!! Robert, you should write a book!!