Most cowboys are men of few words. Wyman Kendall and Gary Chitwood are no exception. But when it comes to conversing with the Gila County Mounted Posse’s new search and rescue dog Cassidy, the words are even fewer and farther between, since Cassidy only speaks Czech.
Cassidy is the newest member of the 45-member posse — a group of Rim Country volunteers that searches for lost and missing hikers throughout northern Arizona on horseback.
Slovakian-born Cassidy made her way to Payson in August thanks to anonymous donors.
While thankful for the generous donation of a trained dog worth tens of thousands of dollars, Kendall and Chitwood, co-handlers of the dog, still haven’t quite figured out how to work Cassidy to her full potential.
“She knows more than we do,” Kendall said.
Giving Cassidy even the most basic of commands — sit, stay and so on — took Kendall and Chitwood hours of Internet research and trial and error practice.
Even now, the men don’t know the breadth of Cassidy’s vocabulary and thereby skills, since their commands haven’t gotten much beyond “sedni” or sit.
They plan to attend a month-long training in California soon to learn how to best handle Cassidy and groom her to the group’s needs.
Cassidy, a pure bred German shepherd, will work primarily alongside the group during search and rescue and sometimes search and recovery missions.
Since the mounted posse formed in 2010, the group has helped on dozens of operations, including hauling injured hikers out of Fossil Creek, looking for lost hikers and, unfortunately, recovering bodies.
Last summer alone, they helped on four cadaver searches.
As it happens, Cassidy’s training has focused on the search for bodies. That will make Cassidy a huge help in the whole region, they said.
Cassidy can also help track down the living — like the 4-year-old who went missing after walking away from a family friend’s home near the airport. That search spurred the formation of the mounted group.
While police, trackers, bloodhounds, helicopters and infrared cameras searched in vain, Chitwood and Kendall, along with Kendall’s wife Beth, found the boy uninjured after only a few hours.
At the time, longtime friends Chitwood and Kendall had worked alone, outside any search and rescue group.
However, after seeing how effective horse-led searches could be, the men decided to start a posse and teamed up with the Gila County Sheriff’s Office.
Membership quickly exploded, going from a handful of the men’s friends to 40 in 2011 and nearly 50 today.
Tragedy struck the group in the spring of 2011 when member Larry Woolsey fell to his death during the search for a missing man near Star Valley.
The group received an outpouring of support from the community. In May, the posse honored Woolsey by hosting the Larry Woolsey Memorial Spring Roundup Dinner and Dance at the Oxbow Saloon.
The occasion drew more than 700 people whose support helped the posse exceed its fund-raising goal.
In addition to building the posse’s scholarship fund, the money went toward training and equipment.
Donors purchased Cassidy and several groups stepped forward to support her care.
Dr. Alan Hallman of Star Valley Veterinary Clinic has offered to take care of her veterinary needs for life and Canine Caviar, her food.
Other donors include Central Pet Supply, Merial Pharmaceuticals, Payson Concrete, Shreeve Roofing, Payson Feed and the Robert and Jackie Marshall family of Queen Creek.
“We are very fortunate,” the men said.
When fully trained, Cassidy will work alongside the members and their horses during missions, but range freely to seek out missing hikers.
A satellite tracking system, provided by another donor, will monitor her movements.
While Kendall and Chitwood are confident of where Cassidy is going, they aren’t sure where she came from.
Although Cassidy came with her own passport, chock-full of immunizations stamps, they can’t make out her paperwork because it is in Czech.
Even computers couldn’t make out where Cassidy came from because her microchip proved unreadable in the states.
The men had Cassidy outfitted with another chip so if she gets lost in Europe or America, she should be OK, they said.
For more information, visit gilacountymountedposse.com.