Waking up in the middle of the night isn't necessarily Leann Mahan's favorite thing to do, but it's perhaps the most meaningful. After enduring two years of intense Search and Rescue training, the Germantown wife and mother of two frequently is called upon to aid area police departments track victims. When that happens, Leanna gets help from the true hero, Alexis, a 3 1/2 year old German Shepherd.
Most recently, Mahan was contacted by police to assist them as they rummaged through the tornado stricken Xenia community. We were taken to a very secluded rescue area where the only people allowed were the National Guard and firefighters," Mahan said. "There were five fire engines back there just to provide us light." From 10p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20 to 4a.m. Thursday, Sept. 21, Mahan & Alexis scavenged through nearly 40 houses on the off-chance that someone was trapped under the rubble.
There was, however, an elderly couple whose cat had disappeared and was nowhere to be found. "Baby" was truly that - their baby. "The lady walked up to us in tears," Mahan remembered. "I had Alexis sniff the blanket the cat would sleep on at the foot of the couple's bed so she could catch Baby's scent. We didn't think we were going to find her. There was a lot of glass and the two walls were blown out."
As Alexis led Mahan through the shredded remains of the house, the couple began to come to the conclusion that hope was lost. The husband told them that it was okay, they'd done their best, but Mahan wasn't about to give up until she found the couple's treasured pet.
Your whole focus is to let the dog work and to watch for the signals." Signals - like a wagging tail or alert ears - that could ultimately save a life. Mahan was picking up on those signals from Alexis. What she didn't know, was whether or not they indicated a live victim. "We finally found Baby under a bunch of rubble," Mahan explained, joy evident in her voice. "She was shaken up pretty bad, but other than that, she was fine. When I handed her to the couple, they both cried and kept saying 'thank you, thank you'."
Mahan, having completed 250 successful animal rescues in recent years, knows how precious every life is, whether it be the two-legged or the four-legged kind. "One house we came to (in Xenia), there were Barbie dolls scattered in the mess," she said quietly. "There were walls fallen over everywhere," adding that, for once, she was glad she didn't find anybody. If she had, they would have surely been dead, and that's one thing she's never anxious to discover.
One of Mahan's frightening discoveries came earlier this year when she came across a seven week old Siberian Husky - German Shepherd puppy who, German Township police believed, had been abused even before being thrown from a vehicle at Diamond Mill and Manning Roads. Like Baby's story, "Dancer" has a happy ending, or rather, a beginning. After extensive surgeries, paid mostly in part by Mahan, Dancer was adopted by Channel 2 weather forecaster Ann Gibson, who became smitten with the puppy when a reporter did a story about the dog during the evening newscast.
More times than not, though, Mahan's work remains unseen. But that's not about to stop her from following her heart, she says, and saving another life.