On the 32nd episode of Child Safety Source, we’ll be speaking with Carrie Harbin. Of course, most of the people who work with Carrie know her as CJ Jones: the non-profit rescue dog trainer!
In each episode, we sit down with people who have dedicated their career and time to promoting safety. CJ Jones is an expert in a really, really cool field. She does K9 search and rescue, specifically in the water. That’s good news for us, as we’re often concerned with dog and pet pool safety. This mixes both worlds. Thanks to CJ and her team, her Search and Rescue K9s are trained to assist law enforcement in preventing accidental drowning… and find bodies.
CJ took some time to speak with Life Saver Pool Fence’s president, Eric Lupton. In this interview, the two discuss her non-profit work with the North Alabama Search Dog Association (NASDA), and more!
Watch the full interview with CJ Jones here:
Learning More about the North Alabama Search Dog Association
NASDA was formed in the fall of 1996 by a small group of people with an interest in both dogs and in search and rescue (SAR). Those people went to countless seminars and committed to realistic SAR certification on themselves and the team. At NASDA, CJ and the team provide area, trailing and HRD (Cadaver) dogs at no charge to law enforcement, fire departments and rescue squads.
You can learn more about NASDA at the official website.
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Below is a direct transcript of the Child Safety Source interview with CJ Jones from September 14th, 2018:
Child Safety Source Episode 32 – CJ Jones
Eric Lupton: And that’s it, we are live on the internet with the magical power of the World Wide Web. How are you doing?
CJ Jones: I’m good. How are you?
Eric: Awesome. Thank you for doing this again. I’m sorry that it didn’t work out very well the first time.
CJ: Well, thank you for having me again.
Eric: No problem.
CJ: Probably this time will work out better.
Eric: You prefer to go by Carrie or C.J.?
CJ: This line of work, I usually go by CJ.
Eric: Okay. Do you have another line of work that you go by Carrie?
CJ: [laughing]. The mom role. I do the mom role.
Eric: Got you. Your kids call you Carrie?
CJ: Sometimes. When you’re standing in public and holler mom, everybody seems to turn around.
Eric: Right, good call. Yeah. I know if I was really mad at my mom, I would call Ruth you know. When I was about fourteen, fifteen, when I wanted to be a real jerk you know, like “alright Ruth”. She’s like, “What you’re doing? Little jerk”. I hated me at sixteen, I was a real asshole.
CJ: Kids can be that way.
Eric: Yeah, how old are your kids?
CJ: I have a daughter that is seventeen and a son that is twelve.
Eric: You have a daughter that’s seventeen?
CJ: I do.
Eric: Were you five and a half when you had her?
CJ: [Laughing]. No. [Laughing]
Eric: Are you sure?
CJ: I’m sure. I was [inaudible 00:01:32]
Eric: Holy cow. That’s amazing. I literally thought you were like twenty seven years old; that’s incredible.
CJ: No, but I really like you.
Eric: I’m dead serious. That’s amazing.
CJ: Well, thank you.
Eric: Congratulations. So, she’s about to go off to… you know, she’s finishing high school?
CJ: She is, she’ll be a senior this year.
Eric: That’s awesome, that’s really cool. Right on.
CJ: The light at the end of the tunnel.
Eric: Does she have any idea what she wants to do when she finishes?
CJ: Yeah, actually he is wanting to be in…. a Forensic Psychologist and a Forensic Sketch Artist.
Eric: Okay, very cool. Kind of stays a little bit within their realm.
CJ: Yeah, just a little bit.
Eric: You know, in the ballpark we’ll call it, you know.
CJ: Different area, yeah.
Eric: Absolutely. So, by day…. So, you have a different day job from your non-profit work, right?
CJ: I do, I work for the federal government.
Eric: Got you. And then, when you’re not being a public servant in the night time, you put on your superhero cape and you work for the… I want to get it tight… the squad which is the north Alabama Search Dog Association, right?
CJ: Well, I work for this…. The [inaudible 00:02:47] rescue squad is the one that I mainly work with and then of course North Alabama search dog in [inaudible 00:02:55]. I do those I said so two.
Eric: Got you. So, those are two separate organizations?
CJ: They’re three separate organizations actually.
Eric: Oh, okay. Got you. Absolutely. So, what do they do and do you do with them?
CJ: For the rescue squad, which is the one where we primarily work here with water, is we are a nonprofit organization and we patrol [inaudible 00:03:21] lake, which is one of the largest [inaudible 00:03:23] lake. And we support the marine police and the other local entities. We also handle drownings, rescues, and recoveries. Those type of things and of course if anything else that the city needs assistance with, we try to back them up whenever we can.
Eric: Got you. And when you say patrol, what do you mean?
CJ: Oh, we’ll just have a present from a lake, a lot of we’ll be out there and you know, if you have a boat or in trouble traveler or [inaudible 00:03:47] that needs assistance, we’ll be out there to help with that. Those type of things.
Eric: Got you. So, like a volunteer coastguard kind of deal?
CJ: Along those lines, yes. We’re a little bit different because we’re more of a… I guess you can say recovery.
Eric: Okay. And specifically, with canines, is that well?
CJ: No, the canines are separate. The canine come in with the North Alabama search dog association, but they do work with us. We work together jointly, because if you have a drowning that’s just another tool in the tool box, so to speak. You can bring in cadaver dogs and you can actually kind of cut it down a little bit to narrow your search area down. Because with us, we can drag, you know drag for a body. And where [inaudible 00:04:34] with the dog, it’s just another tool. So, you know you have another entity that you can partner with to help the family.
Eric: Yeah and I know that we’ve used search dogs and you know, I’ve heard of this before but I had no idea that people used search dogs for the water, you know, underwater.
CJ: Cadaver dogs can search for bodies that are in water. S
Eric: So, how does that work?
CJ: Your body has a sand. When you start breaking down, of course you have oils and gases and things that will come off of the body and that does come through the water. So, that of course the dogs with their sense of smell can smell that.
Eric: So, are they on a boat, essentially.
CJ: Yeah, actually, what we do is you’ll have a dog and a handler and we’ll have one of our boats and one of our drivers and we’ll go out and take a [inaudible 00:05:26] section off and you know you’ll take the dog through the area on the boat.
Eric: And then the dog will let you know somehow, I’m guessing?
CJ: Yes, the dog has an alert.
Eric: Okay. He barks, I’m guessing?
CJ: Some dogs bark, some dogs they do what we call [dionin]; that’s just where they lay down on the boat, they lay down and don’t move.
Eric: Got you and then, do they go into the water or do they just kind of let you know the general area?
CJ: No, they can give us a general area, in which what that does for us, is that help us to where we can either send divers down or we can drag the area depending on how deep it is.
Eric: Got you. And it’s really cool. So, how…. I guess I want to say how accurate. I mean, how close can a dog get through the water? I mean, that’s a lot of…
CJ: Pretty close.
CJ: I mean, they can get pretty close. Yes.
Eric: Holy cow. And because how deep is the areas you’re patrolling?
CJ: It just depends. I mean, we have some very shallow areas. And then we do have [inaudible 00:06:28] areas, where you have your channel. In most of the areas around here, are ten to twelve feet. And then you have some that can be quite a bit deeper, sixty- five, seventy feet or deeper in that’s closer out towards the main channel on the dam area.
Eric: Got you. So, I know you do a lot of body recovery; right, a lot of corps recovery?
CJ: We do, unfortunately. With the rescue squad, we are more of a recovery unit. We do of course, rescues, but a lot of the ties we’re the agency that get called into, especially on the water to help recover the body.
Eric: Got you. And how, in this nonprofit like you said, right?
CJ: We are a nonprofit, yeah.
Eric: Why isn’t…? Isn’t there an….? I mean…
CJ: We do….
Eric: Yeah, I just think there should be like a firefighter or you know…
CJ: We do, but it’s just that area is so big and just the history of the town; we have been around for sixty five years or more, hence we’ve always been one of the entities to handle the water. And don’t get me wrong, the fire department backs us up and if we need anything they are there, but as far as just the boats and the resources, we have that. It doesn’t tax their system if we go out and since we’ve been doing it for so long, it’s just come naturally.
Eric: Got you. So, what’s your background?
CJ: My background…. I am presently of course with the rescue squad, I am a board member, and I’m also one of the divers. And I’ve been doing this since ‘2011’, I got started; I joined the rescue squad, I think it was ‘2012’. But my background actually, I started in canine, with the north Alabama search fund association and then I worked to search with them, where we were here in my own backyard and [inaudible 00:08:20] squad. And I decided that was what I wanted to do and joined up then and just hadn’t looked back. And then of course here recently I’ve joined the cave rescue unit to add another tool to my tool box so to speak, because the rescue, the repelling and the caving aspect I’ve always enjoyed. So, that kind of where I’ve ended up now.
Eric: So, how did you become a canine [SAR] alert? And I’m sorry, what does [SAR] stand for?
CJ: Search and Rescue.
Eric: Search and Rescue, okay of course, that’s obvious. So, how did you get into that?
CJ: I actually saw a story on the news, where they had recovered a lady out of one of the local wilderness areas and they had listed the group on being the newscast and I contacted them. And I had just gotten a puppy recently, a little yellow lab puppy and so, we go back and forth and I met them and it started from there. And I’m currently medically retired my first dog and started working my second dog now in April, so I’m into a new dog.
Eric: Nice. And that dog is with you full time?
CJ: That dog is with me, yes. He lives with me full time.
Eric: Nice. And do you still have the first dog?
CJ: I do still have the first dog. Yes, they stay with us.
Eric: What are their names?
CJ: My first dog, her name is [Crimson] and my second dog’s name is Chief.
Eric: Nice. Any reason they both have a C start?
CJ: Just kind of ended up that way. The second dog came from a handler that couldn’t continue. He had gotten the puppy and wasn’t able to continue, so I took him and he came with the name. And so, we just kept it, it works.
Eric: Got you. It works. What kind of dog?
CJ: They’re both yellow lab.
Eric: Is that preferable?
CJ: Any working breeds preferable; labs, shepherd, flat coats, any working breed. We do have…. I guess the oddest one is the Nova Scotia, that [inaudible 00:0:15], we have one of those. Australian Shepherd, any kind of a working dog, a medium sized working dog would work.
Eric: Perfect. Okay. And is there any breed that’s considered better than the rest as far as this goes?
CJ: Not really, you just have to look at the temperament and drive.
Eric: More about the dog in particular, than the breed as a whole?
Eric: I think I told you this when we talked before. My mom she said do underwater cave rescue. No rescue, but more recoveries like you said. And you know, she has some really disturbing stories of going in to the caves and diving in and finding these bodies and she said that they all had the tips of their fingers were always worn off because they were trying to claw out of the cave. And then she said usually it was a matter of people thinking they had half the amount of air they started with, so they must be okay. And it takes longer to get out than it does to get in. So, you know, what is the you know… you feel you do a lot of cave stuff, you do a lot of rescue and recovery in general, what is the number one cause of these people… you know, what do they do wrong?
CJ: Well, the main thing out here of course, with an area as big as we have, we don’t have a lot of underwater caves, that we don’t have that issue here really. We have had a couple cave rescues where there were some that were caught in a cave, that it was not a good situation, you had water coming in and had to get them out. But the biggest thing around here is just drowning, it’s not wearing life jackets. And you know, of course alcohol and water, those two neve makes…. and that’s the biggest thing, is you have people that either can’t swim or they can swim and they don’t have the life jacket on and something happens and they’re incapacitated for some reason and we end up having to go in and get the body. The biggest thing I’ve always say, is we push for everybody to wear life jackets. That is probably the biggest thing, that’s the one piece of equipment that you shouldn’t go on the water without.
The biggest thing I hear is, “oh well, it’s in the boat you know I can put it on” No, no you can’t. You know, if you have a wreck or if you get thrown out of the boat, you can’t put it on at that point, it’s too late. And our lake is so busy, it stays busy year round, it it’s some of the best [inaudible 00:12:49] in the world. We recently had the bass masters here back in ‘2014’. That’s how good it is, but they go out on the water and they just take it for granted; it changes quickly, the weather around here trying to quickly and there’s objects that you can hit out there. And if you’re not wearing your kill switch and you’re not wearing your life jacket, you’ve just up your chances of not coming home. And I just think people take that for granted and it’s hard because then you have to go out there and you have to recover those bodies and you have to bring them back to the family. And I’m sure your mother can tell you, when you have to come back and deal with that that is….you can’t explain it, you can’t describe it to somebody. If you could, I think they would wear their life jacket or they’ll take better precautions. But it’s hard, that’s probably one of the hardest things we do, is have to come back and face the family. Have them standing there watching you, while you’re dragging or you’re diving or you working a dog, whatever it may be to bring their loved one home; it’s hard.
Eric: How long does that recovery normally take, is it hours, is it days?
CJ: It just depends, it depends upon the temperature and the time of year. In the summer it’s usually pretty quick, obviously because usually a body will surface within twenty- four to forty- eight hours, depending upon how deep or shallow the water is and the temperature of the water. And in the… sorry. In the winter months and in the fall months when it’s cooler, it takes longer because you know the body doesn’t break down as quickly and wait, the water being as cold as it is, we can’t always send divers in or if you can, it’s for shorter periods of time. You get out there and you drag and you do the best you can. You bring the dogs in and whatever else you have available to you, but it’s not always to where it’s a quick recovery. We’ve had them take months, especially in the winter part, we’ve had them take months.
Eric: Wow. What is that like, continually looking for someone for months?
CJ: You know, it’s hard because you want to bring closure to that family, you want to bring that loved one home. You know, and you want to do it as quickly as possible, because the not knowing…you know, you kind of know where they’re at, but you don’t know when you don’t have them and you can’t bring back remains and they can’t have that closure and that’s hard. I mean, I is hard and we’ve been out there before in the [inaudible 00:15:16]…. We’ve been out there when it’s so cold, but you don’t want to give up until they’re home.
Eric: Right. How long do you look for, until you… And do you eventually ever give up or is it for… you got to keep going [inaudible 00:15:27] go?
CJ: We keep going. SO, far, since I have joined, we’ve always made our recovery and it may take us a while; like I said, we have two [inaudible 00:15:37] took several months. But we kept going until we got him home.
Eric: I guess you actually know that summer is going to come eventually? I mean it’s…
CJ: Yeah, you do and it will and at that point when the water starts warming up of course and usually the body surface.
Eric: Is the body still… I mean, after it’s been under for that length of time, I mean, is there still clothes on it, you can still tell, right?
CJ: Yeah, usually, you can. There’s still enough to identify usually, as far as articles of clothing and things along those lines. Yeah.
Eric: So, roughly how many drownings happen in this lake per year?
CJ: We’re very fortunate, in the past couple of years we haven’t had very many at all. We did have one here recently, but that was the first one we’ve had in this area in the last couple years. So, we’ve been very lucky and we did have one person, that was several years ago, which we were able to pull him up; we actually went out and dragged, they knew about where he was at and we had him up in about four hours.
CJ: That was pretty quick.
Eric: So, how many recoveries have you guys done total, do you know?
CJ: I don’t know. We’ve done quite a few.
Eric: Got you, okay. But a pretty small number per year.
CJ: Yes, it’s usually a pretty small number per year. We’re very fortunate in the fact that we’re not as busy as some. We stay busy, and it’s just preventative stuff; we’ll go out, during the winter, [inaudible 00:17:10] we’ve always had a couple of duck hunters that get into some issues and we have to go out and get them in or some [inaudible 00:17:16] fisher man or just some regular boaters that get into trouble occasionally. But that’s usually our norm. Now, we’ve had double drowning a couple years ago. You know, some people in a canoe didn’t have life jackets on and we ended up having to find them. But that was probably one of the more recent ones, I guess.
Eric: Got you. So, on these rescue or recoveries, so what’s your role specifically?
CJ: This depends. Wherever needed, I am the public information officer, but we all get in the boat, we all get out there and do what we can and willing to drag or if divers are needed, I’ll go out as a diver or whatever is needed. Because we’re not very large at all and we all have to wear different hats and play different roles and be diverse in wherever you’re needed, you have to adapt and overcome so to speak.
Eric: Yeah, absolutely. And what kind of….? You know, my brother is a sort of scuba diver, did you have to do extra licensing for this?
CJ: Right now, we will work up to extra licensing, we’re all open water certified; outside of that, we haven’t gone and finished to get the recovery rescue part of it. But we were lucky, the person that trained us in open water, they knew what we were getting into so it wasn’t the normal open water training, if get kind of what I’m saying. So, he did more specific tailoring to what we were going to be doing.
Eric: Got you.
CJ: Yeah, things like an aftermath because the area that we live in with the lake, you can’t see anything, when you’re down there you’re lucky if you can see your hand in front of your face. So, anything that you do, you’re feeling.
Eric: Really? Okay.
CJ: Okay, you can’t see much.
Eric: So, you block out your mask?
CJ: They blackout your mask when you train, they’ll take and put either aluminum foil or they’ll have something in there to block it out where you can’t see and you’ll have to work blind.
Eric: Wow. So, once you’re in the point of diving at that point, you’re just kind of pawing around.
CJ: Because sometimes that’s the only way. Sometimes that’s what [inaudible 00:19:30] that works if you can’t find them in drag it and you know, if it’s not an area that you can drag in, let’s say you got too much dead ball or you just don’t have enough people to drag, then you send divers in. And then they go in and if you’ve got a general area, you can find them.
Eric: And they just feel around until they find something? Wow, that’s amazing. Why is the visibility so poor?
CJ: It’s a lake, so the water is murky. And we have a dam and if the dam is spilling a lot of water, sometimes it’ll stir up sediments and things like that and if we’ve had a lot of rain, so it just changes the visibility picture. But at best, you may have two or three feet. It is not like when you dive out in the ocean, it’s definitely way different. It’s just a different body of water, because we certified out in Panama cities, actually is where we went. And we’re certified out there and diving there versus diving here is completely different.
Eric: Got you. So, then, you work with the Alabama search dogs association…that’s more on land?
CJ: Well, it is more on land, if we do any water it’s going to be on the boats. But, yeah we do more wilderness on the boat. We do also urban… we do a little bit of both.
Eric: And is your work with them kind of similar?
CJ: It is, it’s basically another recovery role. Sometimes, we get to have a good ending, sometimes we get called out and we’re not having to recover a body, we’re getting to bring somebody home, but those [inaudible 00:21:11] not [inaudible 00:21:12] me.
Eric: I mean, it takes a certain kind of person to want to do this; I’m really trying to imagine what drove you to decide this is something that you wanted to do as a hobby, essentially? I mean, this isn’t your day job, you know…
CJ: I work in a funeral home for a couple years, I was an [inaudible 00:21:39] assistant director before I got my present job. And I don’t know, when you deal with death sometimes that closely, you tend to make your peace with it I guess. And so, being able to step in and either help before or even if it’s just to bring somebody home, just to see the closure and to be able to give that to somebody, it’s just… if you know you can do it, it’s…. I don’t know if you can say that you feel led to do it or you feel called to do it, but if you have that ability and I’m not a person that can sit around. I always have to be doing something and my community has been extremely good to me and I’ve been incredibly blessed. And so, this is my way of giving back, is to help those that need it you know. And we don’t ask for money, donations are great because that’s what we run on, but if we can go out and if we can help a family, if we can bring somebody home and of course we’d love to bring him home alive, but if we can bring their remains home for closure, I mean that…. there’s no job that you’ll get paid that is going to make… that is going to top that as when you can do something for that family. You know, there’s no job that is going to do that.
Eric: Absolutely. How long have you been doing it?
CJ: I’ve been doing rescue and recovery work since ‘2011’.
Eric: Okay. And did you do anything [inaudible 00:23:04] before that? I mean, did you have any other hobbies?
CJ: Just a mom.
Eric: What was your first encounter with it that made you think this was something you wanted to do?
CJ: I had a life changing event, I had gone through a divorce and I was looking for a direction and when I saw that story, I had just gotten that [inaudible 00:23:26] and I was trying to find an outlet that kind of help me to deal with things. And so, I saw that and I thought what better way than to give back. And so, I have started with the search dogs in ‘2011’, I started with the rescue squad, I think it was about ‘2012’ and insist it was a direction that I felt like doing, it touched my heart and that’s kind of how I got started.
Eric: Did you go to college?
CJ: I did, I have an Associates in Criminal Justice and so, I finished my degree in ‘2015’.
CJ: Thank you. I worked and was able to put myself through school to get that. So, eventually I plan on going back, but I got to get the kids through school first.
Eric: Right, of course. That’s awesome though.
CJ: Thank you.
Eric: Better than me, I haven’t gotten that far, so it’s pretty cool.
CJ: Thank you.
Eric: Absolutely. So, what did you, when you were growing up, what did you want to be, what was the plan?
CJ: I wanted to be a police officer growing up. And it’s funny, life just kind of takes you on a little different direction and you wind up getting married and having kids and moving off. My ex-husband was military, so we spent a couple years doing that, and then came home and them life just changed. So, I ended up doing this instead of being a police officer.
Eric: Right, absolutely. What does your kids think of it?
CJ: Well, you know and that was the thing because it does take me away from home a lot. And I now sit down and I discuss things with my kids you know; this is something that affects all of us and is this something that you have a problem with me doing? if you want me home more, I’ll do it and they said, no, you go out and you help people and they need help. And they say, we’re very proud of that. And my kids play a huge role in it. You know, if I’m at work and they’re home and I’ve got a call out, I’ll call and I’ll say, hey I need this, this, this and this, when I get home, it’s ready. All I have to do is grab my stuff, throw it in my truck and I’m able to get out the door.
So, you know, my daughter will make sure if I come in late, I’ve got some food or you know, she’ll wait up on me until I get home. So, I’m very, very, blessed that I’ve got some incredibly unselfish children. And I hope… I think we have a shortage of volunteers. It’s easy to write a check and don’t get me wrong, those checks are desperately needed but it’s very different when you give of your time and you give of yourself and everybody is so busy nowadays, that it’s really difficult to find people that want to stop and put the time and effort into being a volunteer and actually giving back in that aspect. And I think, that’s the biggest thing, is we’re facing a shortage of volunteers. And they’re desperately needed, so it is hard to find people that can do this line of work. But now, we don’t… we try to find a spot for everybody.
If you don’t want to be out dragging, if you don’t want to be a diving, there’s other things that you can be doing, we’ll always find a place for somebody. You know, it’s if you want to give back you know, we’ll work with you and we’ll make something work. But I guess it’s…. if you want to see a change in your community, then you have to be the change. And you know, sign up and volunteer whether, it’s… if you can’t do rescue and recovery work, you know even something as small as going and giving blood or volunteering at a shelter, whether it’s a homeless shelter, a fire women’s shelter, whether it’s going and delivering meals to elderly or homebound. There’s so many things that you can do that it’s just the reward that you get out of that, is better than any paycheck you’ll ever bring home.
Eric: Yeah, a hundred percent, I agree with that completely. So, does your daughter have an interest in doing this eventually?
CJ: She does, she’s going to do a little bit different effect than that I think. She’s looking at forensic area of it, the forensic psychology, forensics sketching. She’s an incredibly gifted artist. So, I think that’s kind of the line she’s wanting to take.
Eric: Nice. Does she get that from you, are you artistic?
CJ: I’m not. My mother is, but it I think it skipped a generation.
Eric: There you go.
CJ: I can draw a stick figure and make it look decent, but that’s about all you’ll actually get. [Laughing].
Eric: You’re a little better than me then, I can’t even do that, you know. I don’t have that gene, but would you want her to do it, if that was something she was interested in; would you… is that something you’d recommend for your kids?
CJ: Well, I will say this, because I’ve thought about it and if she feels led to do it and she has that ability, then yes I would want to go out and help others because I think it’s incredibly important. I think that in the day that we live in and the time that we live in, everything is so modernized that we lose contact with each other. You know, everything is everybody is on their phones and everybody is so caught up in all of the electronic stuff that we lose that humanity, almost. We don’t have that contact, so if she can go out and give back to a family and have that interaction with that family, we’ll always gain something from it, no matter how hard it may be.
You know, and if you can be there to help somebody, I think it just…. It grounds you. And I think that is more needed than anything because you see the real need out there for people and it’s not inside some phone. We can scroll through and see the most horrible things on the phone and it’s just like, cameras, like oh, that’s not good, you know… I hate it for them and you desensitized how it really is when you’re standing there looking at it. So, yeah, if she can do that, I think it would be something that would be good, it would be grounding and maybe she wouldn’t take things for granted.
Eric: You talked about how you know, if she can do it, you talked before how you think it’s important for you, because you can do it. Is it a skill set or a mindset, you think makes it so you’re able to do it? What are you referring to?
CJ: I think people handle things differently; some people are better at nurturing other people, some people are better at being nurses and doctors, some people are better at running into burning houses or you know bullets flying at them. And then some people are just able to go out and bring loved ones home. So, we each have I think a different skill set ingrained in us. And it’s just I think, your personality and who you are and what you can handle mentally. I think, it is a big mental capacity to that because, which now you’re seeing more the P.T.S.D. and you’re seeing more of the effect of that. And so you have to be able to handle that have the tools and be able to know how to use them to be able to stay in this line of work. But, yeah I mean, I think you have to have a certain mindset.
Eric: So, I’m guessing that most people who do this, do it for a long time, right?
CJ: You generally find that most volunteers, volunteer or paid individuals that do this, do it because they really…. They want to, they feel that’s where they need to be. I think if you ask anybody, there’s not one of us that if that radio goes off or that tone drops, that call comes out, we will drop what we’re doing. And you go, because that is just what you do. And generally, it’s very hard once you’ve been doing it for so long to just not do it anymore. It’s just…. I can’t explain it, you just, you can’t.
CJ: Can’t just walk away, it’s very hard to walk away from it once you’ve done it.
Eric: So, between the two, how many calls do you get a year, roughly, you think?
CJ: Gosh. The rescue squad… easy, thirty to fifty.
Eric: Oh, wow.
CJ: And a lot of that…. well, and a lot of that, is just, you know helping stranded boaters and you know, those kind of things. You know, we do assist, we’ve had a couple searches and we do this or that with the dogs. The live searches are not as many, we’ll have maybe five, six during the summer just depending, it could be more, it could be less, it just depends. [Inaudible 00:31:47] is a lot more; I don’t work at [inaudible 00:31:49] right now, because that takes a little bit more time. And right now with my kids where they’re at, I’m okay with just working a live dogs. So, I couldn’t give you exact numbers on [Cadabra], but more [inaudible 00:31:59].
Eric: Got you. So, right now you’re only searching for people who are alive?
CJ: My dog only does live, there are dogs that are crossed trained that can be both. But yeah, I’m only doing live right now.
Eric: Do [Crimson] do both?
Eric: Only live as well?
CJ: Only live, only do live with both of them, that the only thing I’m training for until at least my kids are up and gone.
Eric: Got you. I mean, a little bit of a happier outcome at least if you find a… you know.
CJ: It is. The running joke with this, is when she [inaudible 00:32:33], she’ll find them, because it’s about the time we get everybody mobilized, they’re located. Which is great and we would much rather have it that way. But we have had a couple good live recoveries and those are always great because you can have the happy ending, where a lot of times its not.
Eric: Do you have an example of a happy ending that you can share?
CJ: We did have… just trying to think. We did have an elderly man that they were able to locate; it was back last year, I think, that he had…I think it was Alzheimer’s or dementia. And one of our handlers was able to help locate him and return him to his family.
Eric: Oh, that’s cool.
CJ: Yeah, usually with us, it’s usually children or elderly that have Alzheimer’s or dementia. You get the occasional lost hunter, but you know, nowadays with cellphones and G.P.S. and all that, very few people get lost. But it does happen occasionally.
Eric: You said in the water you always have a few duck hunters, right?
CJ: Yeah, around here in the winter, oh yeah, we always a have a couple duck hunters that end up getting into some sketchy situations, then we have to go out and get them sometimes.
Eric: Is that combination of alcohol and recklessness or…?
CJ: No, I think it’s a little bit too cold for that usually, but they end up, either they’ll have issues with their boat or they end up getting stuck in a situation where the boat is not running, they can’t get back, they get stranded, those type of things, we’ve had some of that happen.
Eric: I was talking to [Mario Vittone] and he’s a…I don’t you’re familiar with him, but he was formerly a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. So, you know, his helicopter would fly over and he would jump out and swim to people and rescue them and [inaudible 00:34:22] you know, he said on any open water accidents rescue, whatever it was, almost a hundred percent of the time, besides natural disasters, the mistake was made before they left; the error that led to them needing to be rescued happened on the shore, not in the boat.
CJ: Right. Preparation.
Eric: Would you agree with that?
CJ: A hundred percent, a hundred percent totally. He’s exactly right, because they go out and they don’t have enough gas or they don’t have a change of clothes or they don’t have the proper navigation tools or signaling devices. You know, they get out there they don’t have life jackets and then when you’re out on that water, that water is unforgiving, it doesn’t care. It doesn’t care who you are, what you do for a living or what your income is. It’s an ultimate equalizer, but yeah I agree completely. Because if you go out there without what’s needed, you’re going to end up calling us.
Eric: Right, absolutely.
CJ: I would agree. We don’t have the helicopter, but… [Laughing]
Eric: Well [inaudible 00:35:31] the coast guard, you know. They actually made a movie with Kevin Costner called…. [Inaudible 00:35:40]. But it was Kevin Costner and Austin Kutcher was made on I think the base he worked at and he helped out a little bit on the movie. But yeah, it’s kind of a neat thing, you know. Kind of similar to what you do, but I think you’re cooler because you have a dog, which I think makes everything cooler.
CJ: Well, thank you.
Eric: How are those dogs around the house, when they’re not rescuing people?
CJ: They’re just like normal dogs. They’re a little bit more high drive dogs, because you kind of have to have that for that kind of work, but outside of that I mean, they’re just like normal dogs.
Eric: Always male/ female, does it matter?
CJ: It doesn’t matter. I prefer to run females, but my current dog is a male.
Eric: Got you. Why do you prefer to run females?
CJ: It’s just a different temperament, a different mindset. So, I prefer them, some people don’t have a problem running either, but that’s just my preference.
Eric: Got you, very good. And how long until you run a dog, until it’s too long?
CJ: It’s based on the individual dog. We try not to run them really more than eight or nine years because, it will be very difficult, it’s very hard on their body. So, we try not to run them any longer than that, but if a dog is in good working condition and there are not going to be problems, you can run them maybe nine, ten years, but I wouldn’t say any more than ten.
Eric: right, that make sense. And what about a person you know, how long should you do this for?
CJ: Well, again, it’s kind of like the dog, if each individual person… you have to be honest, I think that’s the hardest part in doing this line of work, because it’s really hard sometimes. We don’t want to admit that we have limitations and as we get older and our bodies change and we go through that, it’s very hard to admit that maybe we can’t do what we were able to before. See, you have to be honest [inaudible 00:37:34] you have to stay in good physical shape, you need to get your annual exams
and just listen to your body. And then when it’s time to hang it up, there’s always another role you can play. You don’t ever want to cause more harm and you don’t want to be out there and be the one that needs to be rescued and I think that’s where you have the very honest and open with yourself and admit when it’s time you need to step back and take a different role. So, that you don’t make the situation worst.
Eric: As long as you are in good working order?
CJ: As long as you are in good working order.
Eric: And what about mentally you know, I mean it’s got to take a toll mentally… you know, I mean, how long do you really want to do this mentally, not just physically?
CJ: And then you know, again, that’s individual. I think it’s very important and I think the good thing that I’m seeing now in the trend, in the community is, it’s not, whereas before, you were just supposed to be tough and you weren’t supposed to show that. But that’s changing and they’re realizing and recognizing that it’s taking a toll on people because you’re seeing things that people aren’t even meant to see in a lifetime much less over and over on a daily basis a lot of times especially the paid….you know, entities. But I think having a good support system is key and having resources that you can go to if you need to talk, if you’re having problems; I think that’s incredibly important, mental health is just as important as physical health. I really think not just with the rescuer but also with the families, because a lot of times the families don’t know how to handle what’s going on with that person. And I think sometimes the biggest thing that’s left out, is helping the families to deal with that. So, I think that’s incredibly important. That’s probably just as important, if not more so as the physical part of it.
Eric: Do you guys have a counsellor, a psychologist kind of on the staff?
CJ: We don’t, we are very good to be brave and in talk which each other but we do have available if we would like to have them or need them, of course that is there and it is available to us. But we’re really good to, if somebody needs to talk, “hey, I’m here, pick up the phone, let me know, we’ll sit down and talk”. But I think debriefing and just talking about things a lot of times, it’s not bottling up and sitting on them is key.
Eric: How many people are in the squad?
CJ: We have on the books about thirty, but the ones of us that really actually run the calls a lot of the times, there’s just a small number of us, maybe five or six that actually run. Because not everybody, like said, you know, we all got different roles and not everybody is in that role of answering the calls. And so, there’s about six of us that generally run just the everyday things. Now, if we have something big, then you have more people that come out obviously. But just the day to day stuff, there’s about six or seven of us.
Eric: And what’s the longest someone’s done this, who’s the most veteran person at your squad?
CJ: Oh, gosh. We do have one gentleman, and he was actually a founding member. And so, he’s been doing it the majority of his life and he is in his eighties and still with us. So, yeah, he sits on the board with us and he’s still really involved. And I think it’s great, I mean because there’s a lot of wisdom and knowledge that we can get from him. And they’re others, there are several that are still here, that are still with us. And I think that’s great, because that helps guide the ones that are coming up and to continue on what we’re doing. So, I think it’s needed, I think that knowledge and that experience is needed.
Eric: That’s really cool. And I think the work with the dogs, is especially kind of [inaudible 00:41:15] to be interesting twist on it. I had no idea you know, as much as I deal with water safety; I didn’t know you could use a dog for water rescue.
CJ: Yeah. We’re very lucky, we got a lot of entities around here like I said. You know, the search dogs and the cave unit and those are both volunteering to [inaudible 00:41:35]. So, the good thing is, you’ve got all these different things available to you, so that even though you may not have that resource yourself, it’s just a phone call away. And we’ve got some great people that will pick up and the ones that can leave work will leave work and it’s just a great community.
Eric: So, how does the cave unit differ from everybody else?
CJ: They do technical, more technical tangle, it’s a lot of times, it’s crack and crevices, [inaudible 00:42:04], it’s a whole lot different because the [inaudible 00:42:07] and the water caves are tricky. Aboveground caves are the same way. We actually help with a class this past weekend that they had and that was actually the patient, which is a little different for me. But it’s very technical and you have again, different roles; that’s the good thing about rescue is, there’s always different roles. You have people that do rigging, you have people that do hasty things, and you have people do evac teams. You know, there’s different roles everybody can play. So, if you have a different skillset, you can find your niche and you can go with it. But, it’s a little bit more technical and it’s just a different take more technical and it’s just a different aspect, whereas with the rescue squad we’re on the water and that’s our area. The dogs, it’s more land based and then with the cave rescue unit, it’s more underground.
Eric: So, if someone wanted to find out about you guys or donate or you know, help you or whatever it was, how could they find you?
CJ: We are all on the web, author entities they’re on the web. I am the public information officer and I run the rescue squad page, the Facebook page, we have an Instagram and Twitter account as well. You can find us, of course, go to [inaudible 00:43:17] rescue squad on Facebook and were linked, all of our accounts are linked. The north Alabama search dog association; you can find us on Facebook as well and Instagram and then same thing with the hunts and cave rescue unti. So, you can find all three of those entities on there.
Eric: Got you. And you’re with all three of those?
CJ: I am, I am a member of all three of those.
Eric: Maybe you need like ten more hobbies, I don’t think you’re doing quite enough. It’s both admirable and insane that you do all of that while having a full time job and also being a mom with two kids. That’s impressive.
CJ: Well, I’m very blessed and I am very thankful to all the entities that give me this opportunity. The rescue squad as been great, and we work so well with the dog teams and the cave rescue unit. We can all work together and it’s a really great thing that everybody can do that because it benefit the community when you have that available.
Eric: Do a lot of people overlap?
CJ: They do, a lot of people that do volunteer are in more than one organizations. You know, a lot of us that run dogs are in a different organization, a lot of us that are on the rescue squad do different organizations and same thing with the cave rescue unit. I think you find that it’s just… I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but you end up finding other niches when you’re doing this, that you like and you want to explore and it opens a different door for you.
Eric: Got you. Is there anything that you want people to know before we finish up?
CJ: Just be safe you know, always be safe. Be prepared when you go out; if you’re on the water, please wear your life and just think about that, because if you don’t, the other option is we’ll have to come in and bring you home and that’s not always a good thing. And volunteer, if you feel lead to do so, volunteer and go out and make a difference in your community. It’s the greatest way you can give back.
Eric: I think you’re a hundred percent right. I think you know, people, especially young people having a sense of purpose and having responsibility. I think it gives you, I think it makes you happy. And I think that we have the wrong idea about what creates happiness and I think what really makes happiness is having something important to do and I think you’re on the right track.
CJ: Yeah. Well, I appreciate that. When you can do something for somebody and you don’t expect anything in return, the return that get is so much more.
Eric: Absolutely. Well, thanks again for doing this and thanks for coming back and doing it a second time. And we’ve… me and Sarah who you talked to, even enjoy saying your name all the time. We’re very excited, like “CJ Jones”.
CJ: [Laughing]. Well, thank you. I appreciate that and thank you for having us, we really appreciate you giving us this opportunity.
CJ: And keep doing what you’re doing. We follow you on Facebook and we really appreciate what
you guys do….
Eric: Thank you so much for.
CJ: It’s very important.
Eric: Alright, CJ, well you have a great day. Tell your folks there at work, thanks for letting us have you for a little bit and we will see you again real soon.
CJ: Sounds good Eric.