On duty: They search and rescue

SOME OF THE Great Lakes Search and Rescue K-9 dogs and their handlers are (from left) Ava the German shepherd and Bob Cramer, Lucy the German shorthaired pointer and Koenraad De Roo, Loki the black English Lab and Don Corbett, Jarvis the collie and Lydia Meyer, Willow the golden Lab and Michelle Molkenthine and Odin the mutt and Patricia Leahy. (Lower photo) Julie Cramer has trained many dogs in the past 30 years, including Great Danes Hayley (left) and Groot. Photos by Sam Arendt


Ozaukee Press staff

A career in dog training wasn’t a reach for Julie Cramer.

She grew up in Cedar Grove playing with canines her father used for a private pheasant hunting business, and she began showing dogs through 4-H at age 9.

But Cramer doesn’t just do obedience training for dogs to happily assimilate them into their families.

Her inspiration was sparked when she was working at Harrington Beach State Park and observed a dog search-and-rescue team searching for a missing person.

Cramer was fascinated with the operation, and when that search and rescue team moved out of the area in 1992 she formed her own team. Since then, her Great Lakes Search and Rescue K-9 has gone on more than 650 searches across the Midwest, looking for people alive or dead on land and in water, including victims of disasters. It’s a nonprofit organization offering        services at no cost ­with the team supported by fundraising and private donations.

Recently, the team went to Manitowoc County to look for people after a fire and, on another call, spent eight and a half hours searching for a missing person in Marinette County.

“I just love that a dog will give you everything they’ve got,” Cramer said. “If they stop, they’re tired or not feeling well.”

Cramer has taken dog training classes through Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Her dogs are trained to a national standard and require weekly training sessions and more work at home.

“Most of the time if a dog doesn’t make it, it’s the handler because it is a lot of work and training,” Cramer said.

Some on her team are cadaver dogs — they’re trained  using hair, teeth, blood and sometimes body parts, a piece of furniture or dirt from under a body. Others train with barn hunts to test their noses, dock diving, obedience and rally — an obstacle  course. On boats, they use water currents like they use wind on land to find drowned victims.

Not all dogs are cut out for search and rescue, and it’s not necessarily dependent on the breed, Cramer said.

The general consensus is bloodhounds are good at it, but Cramer isn’t so sure. She has labs, German shepherds, collies and German shorthaired pointers, among others.

Cramer once had a doberman and was told training would be difficult, but he turned out to be a great dog.

Cramer worked training around teaching kindergarten through second grade at a few public and private schools in Sheboygan County, and she added a for-profit business when she noticed many dogs being dropped off at shelters.

“When I see people struggling with their dogs, the teacher in me wanted to help,” she said.

Besides search-and-rescue work, Cramer had been training dogs at various places, and in 2000 opened Green Grove K9 Center in Oostburg with her husband Bob. The two met in 1996 through one of Cramer’s dog training classes.

Making the leap from teaching two-legged humans to four-legged best friends, she said, was easy.

“You’re really training people when you’re training dogs,” Cramer said.

In many cases, people are more difficult.

“Dogs are easy to understand. They aren’t manipulative like people,” she said. “If they don’t understand something, you just have to find another way to teach it to them.”

In 2018, Cramer contracted bacterial meningitis and later needed open heart surgery.

The business was stopped, but she and Bob this year opened Cramer Canine Consulting, which offers classes on agility, nose work, obedience, rally, specialty and puppy training.

Cramer uses positive reinforcement for training, employing cheese, chicken livers and “anything beefy” for treats.

Cramer even found a new client while spending nearly a year in the hospital. One of the nurse practitioners had a dog that was out of control.

“Now, he’s in my class,” Cramer said.

She has one tip for new dog owners.

“It’s really important that you get them out and socialized,” she said.

Hiking and walking, she said, are better places than the dog park.

If dogs become reactive to other canines, Cramer recommends hiring a trainer to avoid unsafe situations.

Most dogs, she said, are trainable, but a small percentage are not, “just like there are people who can’t handle the rules.”

But Cramer said it’s usually not the dog’s fault.

“Ninety-five percent of the problems are the people and not the dog,” she said.

When she isn’t at work, Cramer is still with dogs. She has several at her five-acre hobby farm that includes three minihorses and two alpacas in the Town of Plymouth. A few dogs live outside and protect her chickens from coyotes. One is an Anatolian shepherd that, she said, thinks he’s a big German shepherd and comes along to her classes.

“Only” six dogs live in the house.

“You want to have a little control when you’re in a wheelchair,” Cramer said.

She is training three of the dogs for search and rescue, and Bob is training another three. A couple are washouts from the program and one is a retiree.

When it’s time to go to work, Cramer is clear about her career distinctions.

“It’s my source of income through training and it’s my vocation through the search-and-rescue team,” she said.

For more information, visit cramercanine.com or www.glsark9.com


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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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