Elsa Green had just arrived at the beach in Eagle River, Mich., with two friends and her son last month when suddenly something caught her eye. A large black beetle was crawling across the baseball cap she’d set next to her in the sand. Green flung her cap to the side, hoping the beetle would fly off.
Then her heart sank as she realized she had placed her diamond engagement ring and matching wedding band inside that cap. “I’d taken them off to put on my sunscreen,” said Green, who is from Hancock, Mich., about 30 miles from Eagle River. “I’d been wearing those rings every day for 17 years. But at that moment, I figured they were gone.”
Green said she couldn’t believe she’d just mistakenly thrown her rings into the sand because she was surprised by a beetle.
She and her friends carefully ran their fingers through a large patch of sand at the beach on Lake Superior. One of them called over a man they’d spotted looking for treasures with a metal detector, said Green, 53. “He didn’t find anything, and neither did we,” she said. “I felt sick about it.”
Since there was no cellphone service at the beach, one of Green’s friends, Colleen Parks, drove a half-mile to the sheriff’s office in Eagle River to see if they had another metal detector and could help.
Sgt. Brad Pelli of the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office was working at the front desk that morning when Parks walked in. “I told her we unfortunately didn’t have a metal detector on hand,” said Pelli, 36. “But then after she left, I thought, ‘Why not take the dog down to the beach?'”
Dogo, a 5-year-old Dutch shepherd, is the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office first K-9, and has lived with Pelli and his family for four years.
Although the K-9 is more frequently used to locate hidden drugs or track the scent of missing hunters, Dogo was also trained to detect human scent on small objects, Pelli said. “In the past, he’s typically found stolen firearms in the forest or a knife at a crime scene,” Pelli said. “Looking for a lost wedding ring was a first.”
There was another reason that Pelli drove to the beach the morning of July 26 with Dogo after he had heard about the lost ring. “I could completely relate to what Elsa Green was feeling,” he said. Last summer, while swimming in Lake Superior, Pelli lost his own wedding ring and went back the next morning with a friend who had an underwater metal detector.
They searched for several hours, then Pelli suddenly spotted something shiny between two rocks. “I was really happy to get it back,” he said. “So I had an idea of what the lady who’d lost her rings was going through.”
When Pelli arrived at the beach with Dogo, he asked Green, her friends and her 9-year-old son, Connor, to grab all their things and walk away from the beach so Dogo would have a better chance of picking up the human scent on Green’s rings in the sand, he said.
During Pelli’s training with Dogo four years ago, the shepherd first learned how to detect human scent on objects with guided practice.
“You throw something 20 feet and the dog gets up to go smell it, then lies down next to it,” he said. “When they lie down, you reward them. And you keep doing that again and again until you can move on to hidden objects.” Eventually, the dog associates finding something that a human has touched with getting a reward, he said. In Dogo’s case, the reward is that he is allowed to play with his favorite ball.
At the beach last month, when Dogo was given a “search” command, the K-9 sniffed around a 30-square-foot area for a few minutes before plopping down in the sand, Pelli said. “I knew he’d found something, so I got down on my knees to brush away the sand and saw something glimmering,” he said. Pelli scooped up Green’s brilliant-cut diamond ring, which had smaller diamonds surrounding the main stone, then took Dogo back to the truck to play with his favorite ball.
“I told him, ‘Good boy!'” several times,” Pelli said.
“Then I went back to the beach to deliver the good news.” Green was stunned that the dog had found her engagement ring and thanked Pelli profusely. “But then I also had to tell him, ‘There’s another ring in the sand – my wedding band,’ ” she said.
This time, Pelli didn’t need any help from his partner to find the platinum band. “I carefully sifted my fingers through the same area and found it right away,” he said. “Both rings had been maybe an inch beneath the sand.”
Green said she couldn’t believe that a dog reunited her with her rings, which she’s worn every day since her wedding to Bill Green in 2004. She generally only takes them off to sleep.
“My son and I both gave the dog a huge hug,” she said. Green also posted a “thank you” to the duo on her Facebook page. “K9 Dogo, you will forever be my hero!” she wrote.
“I’m still amazed by it all,” Green said. “What are the odds of finding those tiny rings in the middle of all that sand?”
Pelli said he’s very proud of his trusted companion. “I’m just the dummy at the end of the leash,” he joked. “Dogo does the hard work.”