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Sen. Dave Oehlke, left, R-Devils Lake, and his son, Jeb, assistant Secretary of the Senate, bring their Newfoundland dogs, Kenzie, resting, and Riggley, to stay with them in Bismarck as they work during the state legislative session. 

Sen. Dave Oehlke, R-Devils Lake, and his son, Jeb, couldn't be in Bismarck without their dogs.

Or, maybe their dogs couldn't be without each other.

"Mostly, I didn't want to be without my dog, and she didn't want to be without my dog, either," said Jeb Oehlke, gesturing to his father's 10-year-old Newfoundland, Kenzie, lying on the floor of the North Dakota Senate chamber, as his 7-year-old Newfoundland, Riggley, stood nearby.

The large, black search and rescue dogs have joined the Oehlkes during their stay for the legislative session. Sen. Oehlke and Jeb Oehlke — who is assistant secretary of the Senate — are divers with Lake Region Search and Rescue, which Sen. Oehlke helped found in 1981 in Devils Lake.

In 1990, the team began to deploy Newfoundlands, utilizing the dogs' instincts for search and rescue to save precious time spent searching water based on witness accounts, which Sen. Oehlke said can be unreliable. 

"They really like people, they get along with people, they care about people," Sen. Oehlke said as fellow senators and legislative staff paused to pet Kenzie in the Senate chamber during an interview with the Tribune.

He remarked on the value of Seaman, the Newfoundland companion of Capt. Meriwether Lewis, who helped lead the Corps of Discovery on its westward expedition from 1803 to 1806, which stayed in and traveled through what is now North Dakota.

Seaman was a watchdog, protector and hunter for Lewis, Lt. William Clark and their expedition.

"He did incredible things for that party," said Sen. Oehlke, such as fetching downed game and warning of dangerous wildlife, such as bears and bison.

Over the years, the Oehlkes have had six Newfoundlands, who make "fantastic" family dogs, said Jeb Oehlke, who has been involved in previous sessions as legislative staff and a lobbyist. 

The Oehlkes said the search and rescue operations are able to provide resolution for families after a tragedy. The dogs themselves also offer comfort, Sen. Oehlke said.

"When someone's had a traumatic event, they're really good with them, not only to help find the victim that might be lost or injured or dead, but also with the family," he said.

Sen. Oehlke's wife, Vicki, is a past president of the search and rescue team, which Jeb Oehlke joined about five years ago.

"It's just amazing," Vicki Oehlke said of the dogs' abilities. 

While in Bismarck, Kenzie and Riggley have enjoyed daily walks and, of course, interacting with people. Especially Kenzie.

"If she doesn't get her people fix almost every day, then life is very boring for her," Sen. Oehlke said. "And she lets us know about that." 

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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