“Together, we helped countless Navajos, all because of Trigger. He was the founding member. It was his heart and spirit that made me decide to do this. All he ever cared about was working… all he cared about was finding the missing,” said Bernadine Beyale, Trigger’s owner and search partner. 

Bernadine picked Trigger out of a litter from a friend. Trigger’s grandpa was a working K-9 police dog with the Aztec, New Mexico Police Department, and from the moment Bernadine picked Trigger, she knew he was something special. 

When Trigger was just a couple of months old, Bernadine began obedience classes with a local trainer named Kelly. Within a few classes, it was clear he would follow in his dad’s footsteps. “He picked up all the commands so quickly and he always wanted more. He was just the smartest dog and he wanted to work.”

Together, they began taking formal K-9 search classes. “We started simple – I would hide behind a bush or a tree, somewhere really easy to find. He’d locate me and we’d celebrate. It didn’t take long before I was hiding further away and in harder spots.”

Trigger was always able to find her and he loved every minute of it. “I was shocked,” said Bernadine. “I’ve always had dogs but before Trigger, I never really did much formal training. I’ve never had a dog like him. He scared me, I thought he was part human. He was just so intuitive. Too smart.” 

Trigger and Bernadine trained for months, learning the art of K-9 searching together and forming a special partnership. “We ended up on a search team with the state of New Mexico, based in Farmington. We worked for months, soaking it all in. Trigger came alive. This is what he was made to do. I had to keep learning for him. I had to work hard to keep up,” she said. 

“I’m a Navajo woman. My parents were Navajo police officers. I am no stranger to missing people,” she said. “Unfortunately, we all are. I didn’t want to go into police work like my parents but I guess it’s just in my blood. And it was in Trigger’s too.” 

Together, they searched for missing and endangered people across the state from 2016 through 2020 with the NM Badlands Search and Rescue team. During that time, Bernadine received all necessary certifications through the state of New Mexico. Trigger and Bernadine went on several successful searches together.

The Day It All Changed

“In 2020, we were at a community event. We had a booth to share what the search and rescue team was doing with the public. An older couple came up to me and we started talking. They met Trigger and I shared with them about the work we do,” said Bernadine. 

The couple shared with Bernadine that their son had been missing somewhere in the Navajo Nation for more than six months. “These poor elderly people told me that the police weren’t helping. They’d been searching out in the desert alone. Imagine, two elders hiking up and down in the heat looking for their son.” 

Bernadine knew that she and Trigger could help. Unfortunately, she was met with bureaucratic red tape. “I asked my captain if we could go search for their son. He told me that unless the Navajo Police called the state police and authorized a search, our team wouldn’t be deployed on tribal lands. These poor people had no one, I wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

Bernadine decided to go on her own. She and Trigger spent hours searching alongside the couple. “The terrain was hilly and sandy. This was in June so it was hot as heck. That really got me. This was an elderly couple out there. They shouldn’t have to be doing this. They didn’t have any other options though.” 

“The second weekend, we got a tip that their son might be in a dumping area outside of Shiprock, New Mexico. We spent six hours searching this vast area. I wasn’t feeling confident that we could do it but Trigger was ready to work. After hours of walking in the hot sun, Trigger found a body. It was their son. He was deceased. It was a life-changing moment for the family, and for us,” said Bernadine. 

Missing and Murdered Indigenous People is a national crisis. As of October 2023, there were 192 Native Americans verified as missing throughout New Mexico and the Navajo Nation alone. While there has been recent work done to address this growing issue, it’s not enough. 

The couple told another family with a missing loved one. And that family told another family. Soon, Bernadine and Trigger were spending all their free time looking for people across the Four Corners region. 

“I couldn’t believe how many families weren’t getting the help they needed,” she said. “Over the next few years, requests started picking up. I started to ask myself, what can we do for our people? How do we find these people?”

In January 2022, Bernadine founded 4Corners K-9 Search and Rescue, a 501c3 nonprofit. It is the only Native-Owned K-9 search and rescue team in the region. Collectively, they cover Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. By 2023, their organization was receiving more than 100 calls per year regarding missing people, most of whom were indigenous. 

Another Life-Changing Day

“In November 2023, we were on a search in Torreon, New Mexico,” explained Bernadine. “There were big washes and we were going up and down in hard terrain all day. By the end of the day, he was limping. Not bad but noticeable. By the next search a few weeks later, it still hadn’t resolved so I left him home and took my younger pup, Gunny.”

When Bernadine returned, she took Trigger to their local veterinarian. They took X-rays of Trigger’s leg. “She told me that she thought Trigger had osteosarcoma,” said Bernadine. “She only gave me a few options. I was so mad, sad, and overwhelmed. I needed to do more for my boy than they were giving me.”

Over the next several days, Bernadine scoured the internet for treatment options for Trigger. That’s when she found the Flint Animal Cancer Center. “A friend who was part of our SAR group who now lives in Thornton, CO recommended we come to Colorado. I called and they got us right in. That was the best decision I could have made given his diagnosis,” she said. 

“We had an awesome experience,” said Bernadine. “Everyone was so caring. Dr. Paulos was amazing. So helpful, patient, kind. She made sure I understood everything and gave me so many more options than I had before. Trigger kind of hated the vet but he loved her. I think that speaks to the fact that he trusted her, too.” 

At the FACC, Trigger was diagnosed with osteosarcoma in his front limb. With advanced imaging scans, Bernadine and her care team opted for an amputation, followed by chemotherapy to fight the cancer. Trigger also joined a clinical trial to assess his activity levels before and after the surgery. 

“He did so well,” said Bernadine. “I just thought of this as another challenge we’d overcome together. I was already planning ways for him to get back out in the field.”

As a search and rescue dog, Trigger qualified for a patient assistance grant to help cover the costs of his treatment. “The grant helped us a whole lot. We wanted the best care for him, we felt like we owed it to him for all the work he did over the years. The grant made all the difference for us. He could get the care he needed. And deserve,” she said. 

The team returned to New Mexico and Trigger began his recovery. A couple of weeks later, they were out for a short walk. “I don’t know what happened,” said Bernadine. “He must have slipped and he did something to his back hip. We went to the emergency vet but I could tell he was in considerable pain. His hip was out of socket and she said that even if she put it back in place, it would just pop out again because the muscles around it were too weak.”

Bernadine made one of the hardest choices of her life. He passed away in her arms on February 5th. 

“All that guy knew how to do was help people. I just thank everyone at CSU for their commitment and dedication to him. They treated us like family and we got the best possible care. It wasn’t the outcome that I hoped for but I know everyone did what they could for Trigger.” 

Bernadine plans to expand the work she started with Trigger. 4Corners K-9 Search and Rescue will continue to find missing and murdered indigenous people when no one else will.