Hero German Shepherd from Alabama vies to be country’s top dog in American Humane contest

Hero German Shepherd from Alabama vies to be country’s top dog in American Humane contest
Corey Speegle and his trained German Shepherd, Küsse, are in the running for American Humane's top prize as Rescue Dog for 2020. Kusse – from Sheffield, Alabama – is the state's only representative in the national competition, which will appear on the Hallmark Channel this fall. Speegle, who volunteers for two Alabama fire departments, hopes that his dog will take home the top prize. (Corey Speegle)

A mom’s reaction to being reunited with her lost child – found by Küsse, a German Shepherd rescue dog – was to smother both with kisses and hugs.

Indeed, the name Küsse – German for “kisses” – fits Corey Speegle’s rescue dog to a “T.” With her innate ability to find lost people, Küsse has earned huge praise during her short career.

Nearly half a million dog lovers across the country have cast their votes for Küsse, one of three semifinalists for the American Humane Hero Dog prize in the Search and Rescue category. Other categories include Therapy Dogs; Service Dogs; Military Dogs; Law Enforcement Dogs; Shelter Dogs; and Guide/Hearing Dogs.

Küsse and Speegle live in Sheffield, Alabama, and she’s the only dog representing the Yellowhammer State. Supporters can vote for Küsse once a day through July 16.

Training the nation’s ‘top dog’ 

Speegle got Küsse as a pup and began training her at a year old. Küsse’s innate ability to find individuals has primed her to win the national contest this fall, which concludes with a gala and a two-hour special on the Hallmark Channel.

“Küsse is a beautiful dog, and she loves to serve and help find missing people,” said Speegle, state coordinator for the Community United Effort Center for Missing Persons and a volunteer firefighter for Spring Valley and White Oak Volunteer Fire departments. “Her mother is a German Shepherd from the Czech Republic and the father is a second-generation explosives dog out of Fort Hood, Texas.”

Speegle has trained with the Federal Emergency Management Association, and he and Küsse have completed numerous search and rescue classes.

“I’ve taken advanced building search classes through detection services, and I’ve had boat training to locate bodies in the water,” Speegle said.

He’s accustomed to receiving calls for help from Colbert County Sheriff Frank Williamson. On March 4, Speegle and Küsse were called to work search and reconnaissance efforts in Cookeville, Tennessee, after a powerful EF4 tornado decimated the town in the early morning. Cookeville is the county seat of Putnam County, 79 miles east of Nashville.

“Küsse and I worked for hours on end to help find survivors and bring closure to families with missing loved ones,” said Speegle, who volunteers with the White Oak Volunteer Fire Department’s K-9 Search and Rescue crew. The team also uses highly trained cadaver dogs.

“It was like a bomb went off there,” he said. “We stayed until the last person was accounted for – it wasn’t pretty, as you can imagine.” Despite their round-the-clock search March 4-6, Küsse and Speegle found no survivors among the 27 people missing.

Speegle trained Küsse with the “recall/refind” method.

“I say, ‘show me,’ and she will return to me and lead me to the person,” he said. “When she finds somebody, she gets her purple kong wubba, her favorite toy in the whole world.”

“The new thinking is you don’t want the dog to bark at someone and scare them, so she’s trained to find them and, depending on the distance, she returns to me and makes me know she found them,” he said.

Speegle uses a handheld detection module linked to Küsse’s GPS-monitored collar, which can track her up to 9 miles.

“Occasionally, with small children, the dog won’t leave the child,” he said. “It will lay down and stay with the subject, so we can still track where the dog is.

“She also does scent article finds,” Speegle said. “Küsse locates a person using a scent article – a sock, hat or shirt, for instance.

“Küsse will work on- or off-lead,” he said. “If you have someone lost in a national forest, she can use that scent to find them.”

Küsse recently helped in the search for a 20-year-old marathon runner from Colbert County near Muscle Shoals, Alabama, whose family reported him missing.

“He’d gone running in the evening and it had stormed all night,” Speegle said. “We tracked him 200 to 300 yards but Küsse lost his scent because of the rain. But she assisted law enforcement to go in the right direction to find him.”

Using video, the sheriff tracked the man’s run. The marathoner had been caught in the storm and sheltered overnight in the field house at Muscle Shoals High School. He borrowed a phone the next morning to call his parents.

Honoring the past at LaGrange Cemetery

Colbert County Commissioner Darol Bendall asked Speegle to locate unmarked historic graves at the historic LaGrange Cemetery in Leighton, Alabama. He and Küsse volunteered a weekend in April.

“The descendants would like to know where they’re at – it’s rough terrain,” said Speegle, who assisted other members of the LaGrange Living History Association. “There are probably 100 graves that are unaccounted for, some of which date to 1815.”

The project was an excellent training opportunity. Speegle, Küsse and his other dogs located nine lost gravesites. During the years, headstones for a man and his wife, dating to the 1800s, had been moved about 50 yards from their resting place. Volunteers reset the headstones properly. Other graves were found outside the cemetery.

“My cadaver dog found an unmarked grave in a wooded area,” he said.

During the work, a volunteer’s child went missing.

“This little 6-year-old girl had wandered off 200 to 300 yards,” Speegle said. “Küsse found her at the back of the cemetery, at the wood line. It was a little scary for all of us.”

Speegle finds a lot of satisfaction in helping others.

“There was no happy ending in Tennessee, but finding the little girl was a good one,” he said. “Küsse is at the beginning of her career. I hope she serves her community well. If she wins in her overall category, I will be one proud daddy.”

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