Michelle Limoges has a great day job. She’s worked for the Alberta Research Council for 30 years. She runs special events for the Edmonton-based organization.
Limoges, 59, is planning to retire next year.
Her other gig, meanwhile, will probably start taking up even more of her time.
Originally from Ontario, Limoges moved out west with her first husband in the late 1970s. They got a Doberman together and after the divorce, Limoges took the dog.
She met her second husband at a dog show; he was a policeman who was also a Doberman owner. When her show dog ran out the door one day and ended up at pound, she decided to do some obedience training.
She and the dog enjoyed the challenge. With her next pet, she began doing tracking.
Then, a tornado hit Edmonton in 1987. Observing how important the search and rescue efforts had been during the disaster, Limoges and a group of five other dog owners decided to try it.
They got hold of the training standards for a group in British Columbia and began learning.
Every Sunday, they’d meet at a semi-demolished building in downtown Edmonton. They’d hide friends in the rubble and send the dogs to find them.
When the dogs found their targets, they’d get their favourite toys to play with as a reward.
Along with the weekly group session, Limoges and her dog would go out many nights of the week, doing training exercises.
The group began calling itself the Search and Rescue Association of Alberta and became a non-profit organization. As the secretary for the organization, Limoges spends part of her evenings — after she’s been out training — doing emails and writing newsletters or guidelines.
The group now has good relationships with local police and the RCMP and get invited out to real searches in the Edmonton area.
It’s often to search for a senior with Alzheimer’s. In recent years, Limoges and her group have been training for human remains recovery — her dog Parquetta has a knack for this.
At the search, the police hand out maps, and Limoges uses a compass and a GPS to orient herself. She and her dog take frequent breaks and can go for hours. Some searches are out of town; one lasted two days.
The group gets called about a dozen times a year.
Calls can come anytime. Limoges has an understanding with her employer and will leave if she’s not in the middle of an important event.
“I’ve had lots of parties and things ruined. We do all this training, so when the call comes I say, sorry, I gotta go.”
Diane Peters once hawked magic pens at the Canadian National Exhibition. She’s now a writer and part-time journalism instructor.