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Hundreds of missing bodies slowly recovered in Grand Bahama


Peace River volunteer search and rescue K-9 team gather before departing the boat. They plan their mission and discuss objectives for the day.

Four weeks after Hurricane Dorian made landfall, a group of volunteers arrived at the island of Grand Bahama with special cargo tucked away in the Grand Celebration cruise ship: dogs. 


Bahamian authorities claim that there are still 1,300 people missing, while the death toll continues to rise, according to National Public Radio (NPR). The volunteer dogs associated with Peace River K-9 Search and Rescue Inc. are trained specifically for cadaver search and rescue. 


“They are trained like any other dog,” volunteer Jennifer Thompson said. “They have to pass an obedience test and a temperament test. [The dog] is trained on human remains to find human remains and are proofed off of animals.”


Eli, Jennifer Thompson’s search and rescue dog, sits happily with his toy while awaiting their departure into the field.

Thompson has volunteered all over North America with her dog, Eli, for five years and continues to train other dogs for missions. Less than 17% of search and rescue dogs are successful in their tracking, according to The Giving Partner. Michael Hadsell, founder and CEO of Peace River K-9’s, explained that through their training process at Peace River, the dogs have an 80% accuracy rating for locating missing people. 


As a non-profit, Peace River relies on donors to sponsor the trainers so they can travel to the Bahamas in an effort to locate as many missing people as possible. Through this, Peace River sent out a team of seven volunteers and seven canines for their mission on Grand Bahama Island. The volunteers worked tirelessly on the east-end of Grand Bahama where debris piled up for miles. 


“We would work at least 14 hours each day,” Hadsell said. “The dogs were amazing. I was surprised how much work we got out of them. Once the canines get some rest and we can get enough funds, we will definitely be going back to help out some more.”


Even though the organization is still gathering an exact number of bodies recovered in the most recent search and rescue mission, the volunteers and canines' hard work continues to move the Bahamas one step closer toward recovery. Hadsell has worked in search and rescue his whole career, so this isn’t his first mission following a massive hurricane.


“I’ve never seen anything like it. The destruction on the island was far worse than Hurricane Katrina or Andrew,” Hadsell said. “It looked as if a bomb had fallen on the island.”


While the Peace River team expects to go back to the Bahamas next week, they are busy at home preparing to aid the islands as much as possible. They’re trying to fundraise enough money to go over as many times as they can for as long as they can. The Peace River volunteers also told the local police they plan to train a search and rescue dog to donate to the island so the mission can continue when they’re not present. 


“The families are always looking for answers,” Hadsell said. “When somebody is gone or missing it leaves a giant hole in their lives.”

He continued with a story of one man who lost his mother. 


“We agreed to help him find his mother and we did. Unfortunately, she had passed away,” Hadsell said. “Although she had died, that man won’t be wondering what happened to her and where she went for the rest of his life. He can find peace and get closure for his loss.”

While the K-9 team plans to help out the Bahamian community, other volunteers as well as local residents continue to clean up the islands as they recover from Hurricane Dorian’s damage.


By Kristen Franz, Michaela Payne

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