Sue Condreras of Northville knew something was wrong the moment her German shepherd came out of the brush.
Jesse, who was wearing a vest that marked her as a trained search and rescue dog, was limping and yelping in pain.
The experienced rescue dog had suffered two herniated discs in her spine. But even a six-month rehabilitation process, which involved acupuncture and physical therapy, couldn’t keep Jesse down.
And Ms. Condreras could tell her partner wanted to get back out in the field.
“You can sit in my yard and throw the ball 10,000 times and she’ll bring the ball back 10,000,” Ms. Condreras said, explaining how she knew Jesse was eager to work again.
So Jesse was put back in action and, on her first rescue mission in the swamps of New Jersey, she located a missing hunter.
Jesse and Ms. Condreras’ dedication is now being honored by the American Kennel Club, which has announced Jesse as the winner of this year’s Award for Canine Excellence as a Search and Rescue Dog.
“It’s an honor for us to go out there and receive this award on behalf of all the other search dogs and canine teams that go out there and work,” Ms. Condreras said.
Ms. Condreras has owned German shepherds for years and has practiced obedience training with them, but decided about six years ago that she wanted to train a dog specifically for search and rescue.
She went to a reputable breeder in New Jersey, who showed her Jesse, then a 4-month-old pup.
“It was a match made in heaven,” Ms. Condreras recalled. “She came up to me and wrapped her paws around me.”
When Jesse turned a year old, their training began and the dog eventually became certified as a volunteer live search and human remains detection dog. The two operate through a Long Island volunteer group, going wherever emergency officials need them.
Jesse doesn’t just search for lost people. She also serves as a therapy dog, and has visited hospitals and nursing homes more than 250 times.
“The most rewarding thing is we’re able to do this as a team,” Ms. Condreras said. “There’s a bond that’s gotten that much stronger. Sometimes you look in her eyes and you know what’s going on … There’s a bond I can’t explain.”
Lisa Peterson, an American Kennel Club spokesperson, said Jesse typifies the tenacity of her breed.
“It’s really quite something,” Ms. Peterson said. “Jesse is multi-talented.”
Jesse and Ms. Condreras will accept the award at this year’s annual National Championship dog show in Orlando, Fla. Until then, the two partners are taking a little time to celebrate.
This week, as Ms. Condreras relaxed as part of a short stay-at-home vacation. Jesse couldn’t rest; she was swimming in the pool.