Last Thursday, South Carolina Department of Natural Resources Private First Class Patrick Nettles got a call about a toddler who had wandered off into the woods near the small town of Ehrhardt. The two-year-old boy’s grandfather had been watching him ride around on a tiny battery-operated car, but lost sight of the child and couldn’t move quickly enough to chase him.
So Nettles loaded up his truck with his canine colleague Cash, a K-9 black Labrador retriever who knew he had a job to do. “When Cash gets in the back of that truck, he knows he’s going to do something where he gets rewarded, where he gets to play with his tennis ball,” Nettles says. “He works for that tennis ball.”
Cash is one of five Labrador retrievers on SCDNR’s canine team. On the scene, he picked up the boy’s scent immediately. “I gave him a command to track,” Nettles says, “And he stayed dead in the middle of those two little tire tracks the boy left.”
With Nettles following, Cash worked the trail until the tire tracks ended. They searched for more markings along a rural intersection and the surrounding woods, but couldn’t find anything. “I worked him around a pond, worried maybe the little boy had gone toward water, but Cash kept giving me a negative,” Nettles says.
Then Cash picked up the boy’s scent again. “I had to trust him,” the officer says. “It was all on Cash.” Again following a scent, Cash led Nettles down a wooded road, past a few hunt-camp trailers, and then to a grassy area where the little boy’s car sat. Empty.
“It got scary again for a second,” Nettles says. “But Cash started tracking him around the back side of another pond.” Then they spotted the boy, sitting down and playing with a firetruck.
Relief washed over Nettles. “The boy was trying to explain to me that his car died on him, so he brought his other toys to play with by the pond,” Nettles says. From the time of the grandfather’s call, the child had been lost for thirty minutes. It took Cash just eight minutes to find him, once the dog got his orders. “And then,” Nettles says, “The boy asked if he could play with the puppy.”
And because he’s a working dog who completed his assignment, Cash got to play. The boy threw him his favorite reward, his tennis ball. And Cash fetched it right back.