Over the years at Highland Canine, we have certified hundreds of working dogs for a variety of purposes. We know the huge difference a well-trained K9 can make to the efficiency of law enforcement teams and military operations, and how these amazing dogs can benefit local communities. Our experienced trainers have passed on a wealth of knowledge to handlers across the globe.
Although we have trained K9 teams from as far afield as Nigeria and Guatemala, recently, we worked with a team much closer to home – in fact, a team based right here in Iredell County! Nikki Chapman, a member of our kennel team who also works with Iredell Search and Rescue (ISAR), and her German Shepherd, Delilah, were certified last month in the field of scent discrimination trailing.
With this certification, Delilah becomes the second operational SAR K9 for ISAR – in 2020, we also trained and certified K9 Diezel, handled by Cory Barnette.
Achieving this certification is an incredible achievement, and requires countless hours of hard work. It took time, effort and energy on the part of Nikki and Delilah to constantly work at their training, practising on a regular basis to ensure they will be effective in the field. It also required patience and commitment on the part of our trainers to ensure Nikki and Delilah continued to make progress towards their certification.
In this interview, we caught up with Nikki to discuss Delilah’s backstory and the importance of this certification to ISAR and the local community.
Please join us in extending our warmest congratulations to Nikki and Delilah. We know you will make a huge difference to the lives of local families!
Nikki, what motivated you to get into search and rescue?
About five years ago, a dear friend, Kimmy ‘Hoss’ Lambert, tried to talk me into joining a group called Iredell Search and Rescue – ISAR. At that time, I said I was too busy.
Back in 2019, I was having a very hard time with depression. I didn’t want to talk to anybody about it. I didn’t want to include my family. My thoughts were essentially, ‘how can I talk to someone who has no clue what I have been through, or even relate?’. I was not into medicating my problems. I did some research and this is where I found my therapy…Delilah.
Tell us a little more about Delilah.
When I first got Delilah, she was this cute little ball of fur. I actually spent several hours in an airport awaiting her arrival. When they finally brought her crate in, I opened the door to this adorable ten week old long haired German Shepherd puppy. She was perfect!
After getting her home, I enrolled in an online course for a canine specialist so we could learn together. Our bond became so tight that she doesn’t leave my side – just what I needed. Delilah is so full of life and happy. She gave me my life back. She is my once in a lifetime dog.
How did you get started in SAR?
Delilah and I had the opportunity to hang out with some new friends in 2020 from Class 53 at the School for Dog Trainers. They were in the midst of their trailing practical, and invited Delilah and I to come along. We had a blast! I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how she knew what to do when I switched her from collar to harness.
In the fall of 2020, Stasia Dempster (a trainer at Highland Canine) offered a search and rescue class based out of Highland’s training facility here in Harmony. Remembering our previous experience, I thought this would be a great outlet for Delilah.
After the first class, I got in my car and was thinking ‘this is not for me’! Delilah was so fast that she had both my feet off the ground!
How have you found the process of working with Delilah? What has it been like to see her progression?
So after my initial reaction to the first class, I decided to persist and gave it a few more classes. I saw how much she enjoyed this and realized this was her calling. At this point, I also spoke with Kimmy, and we decided we needed to get her certified and on the ISAR K9 team.
Stasia spent several months by our side throughout this process. We were training just about every weekend. Not a single weekend went by that I wasn’t amazed by Delilah – especially as the times got longer and the distances increased.
I absolutely love watching Delilah work and problem solve herself. I feel like I am basically just there to make sure she doesn’t get hurt – she is amazing.
Tell us about the certification – were you nervous? Confident? How did the certification go?
So, eventually, after months of training and hard work, the time had finally come for us to certify. The date was February 10, 2021.
I was so nervous, and it wasn’t that I thought she wouldn’t have it, I was afraid of failing her. I was 100% confident in my dog – just not myself!
Once our test began, I just let her do her thing. I was so proud when she found her missing person. This is what we spent the last several months training to do.
What are your future aspirations for working with Delilah?
Our training doesn’t stop here. We will continue to work hard and strive for more goals. Delilah is now the newest member of ISAR as ISAR K9/2.
We hope to serve this community the best we can and are very humbled to be a part of our team that is so good at what they do. Lives depend on us!
Thank you for taking the time to read a little on the journey of Delilah and I. A huge thank you to my family; Stasia; all my trail runners; and the amazing people at Highland for believing in us. Thank you Magdalena for that initial invite – you, Kim and Wendy are great. I appreciate you all!