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SARDAC ready to answer the call in Airdrie

Both in Alberta and abroad, SARDAC hopes to use its dogs to find those who are lost and bring them home again.

The Search and Rescue Dog Association of Canada (SARDAC) seeks to go anywhere, anytime to help those in need. Both in Alberta and abroad, SARDAC hopes to use its dogs to find those who are lost and bring them home again.

SARDAC is the brainchild of Airdrie resident Maria Ilioviciu, a former peace officer who now works as a dog trainer. She founded the organization last fall, and it has rapidly expanded to include four dog handlers and a team of four specially trained search and rescue (SAR) dogs. The dogs specialize in scent tracking over vast distances of wilderness to find living victims who may have become lost or suffered misadventure.

Ilioviciu’s own dog Cabella became the first of the pack to be officially certified, and Ilioviciu is hoping the rest of the canine team and their handlers will follow soon after in the coming months.

However, Ilioviciu and Cabella are hoping to jump in right away and help out wherever they can after months of intense specialized training, which pushed both the handler and her dog to reach new levels.

“We train our dogs for all possible scenarios, and make sure they are comfortable with anything life might throw at them,” Ilioviciu explained. “We train our people just as hard as we train our dogs.”

Training scenarios for the duo included such things as rappelling together down a sheer wall, travelling over ziplines together, and preparing themselves to be dropped into the middle of wilderness anywhere to track over tough terrain.

Two final tests before Cabella’s certification included tracking and finding one individual through a 40-acre zone of bush and tracking and finding two individuals through a 120-acre zone at night. Cabella found the first individual in under 45 minutes and the two in the 120-acre zone in about 1.5 hours.

“For manpower, if we were to do that with people, it would take a lot longer, and you would need a lot of people,” Ilioviciu said.

Ilioviciu said what brought her into the world of search and rescue dogs, and led to the founding of SARDAC, was Cabella herself.

“When I got her, I was not expecting the breed that I got,” she confessed. “Cabella’s a shelter rescue; so I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into. She turned out to be what we call a high-drive working dog. She really needed a job. She needed to use her mind, and be physically and mentally stimulated. She kind of launched me into this world.”

Ilioviciu felt if Cabella was going to be doing a job anyway, she might as well be serving a higher purpose alongside her owner.

“My background previously was law enforcement,” Iliovicui explained. “It kind of worked out if she was going to have a job, I wanted it to benefit our community. So I got into search and rescue a few years ago.”

Ilioviciu said she and Cabella then began working with several existing search and rescue teams in Alberta to hone their bush skills and tracking abilities.

“We have been training with ground SAR teams – those are the ones we call ground-pounders,” she said. “The volunteers who don’t have dogs, but just use their own two feet to go out looking for people. These past few months, we have been training with various teams in and around the area in Alberta, just kind of getting out there and having people know who we are. The more people who know the resources they have, the more likely they are going to use them.”

Generally, Ilioviciu said SAR teams like hers are volunteer-based and get called in by local law enforcement to help when needed. 

She hopes to get her organization’s name out there in order to start getting more and more opportunities to help where they can. They hope to prove themselves locally before expanding out to potentially take on tougher jobs across Canada, and maybe eventually around the world.

“We want to do everything we can,” Ilioviciu stated. “Everything we can help with – from people getting lost in the woods to natural disasters where we can find people buried in rubble. We have lots we want to do for a little team.”

SARDAC is an all volunteer, non-profit organization, but Ilioviciu confirmed donations are always welcome.

“We do this to try to make the world a better place and help our communities,” she said.

For more information on the Search and Rescue Dog Association of Canada visit or follow the group’s efforts on social media.

Tim Kalinowski

About the Author: Tim Kalinowski

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