MANCHESTER, MAINE, Maine — Maine game wardens said Tuesday that missing person searches have increased since the start of the pandemic.
With game wardens stationed throughout the state, they have their hands full.
The introduction of K9 units, however, is starting to pay off.
"When the dog does their part and the handler does their part, it's an indescribable feeling of self-worth and value," K9 specialist and game warden Lucas Bellanceau said.
Just within the last few days, that feeling of self-worth was felt twice as much.
Game warden Jake Voter and his K9, Koda, rescued two people reported missing within the span of 72 hours.
"What happened last week probably will never happen again in my career, just the fact that we had the opportunity to search for two people in three days and they were in the area I was searching, that in it of itself is uncommon," Voter said.
The first missing person was an 11-year-old girl from St. Albans who was reported missing Friday morning. Warden Voter and Koda found her just a few hours later. Voter said Koda found the girl's scent and took off.
"I never would have been there without the dog," Voter said.
The second missing person found was a 77-year-old woman in Bremen. She was reported missing Friday night and was found after spending two days in the woods behind her property. She was found dehydrated but alert, according to game wardens.
Voter and Koda are only in their first two years as partners, but Voter said the bond is stronger than ever.
"We try not to get too attached but it's hard not to ... we are a team, he's the most important part, sometimes I feel like I'm on the dumb end of the team," Voter said. "You have to trust your dog."