Hope was fading. But when Chance the dog came home from the woods near Sydney, N.S., after going missing for two days during a snowstorm, search teams redirected their hunt for James Delorey, his seven-year-old, autistic owner.
They found him shortly after, but doctors weren't able to stabilize his severe hypothermic condition and, a day later, on Dec. 7, 2009, James died in a Halifax hospital.
On Tuesday, the Nova Scotia government announced the provincewide expansion of a radio-tracking system to help find people with autism, Alzheimer's or other cognitive conditions who wander off and get lost. Ross Landry, Nova Scotia's Minister for Emergency Management, evoked James's story after announcing that $273,000 would go toward the project, which is already in effect in Kings County but will be extended as search and rescue teams across the province are trained to use the equipment.
He told The Globe and Mail that James's death "caused shock and trauma in the community as a whole," adding: "We can reduce these incidents or eliminate serious injury."
People who sign up for the program will wear tracking bracelets that emit radio signals unique to each user. When someone enrolled in the program goes missing, search and rescue teams will use antennae to locate them.
The bracelets are the size of a large wristwatch but cannot be removed like one. Nancy Arenburg, co-founder of the Project Lifesaver Association of Nova Scotia, a non-profit that will administer the tracking program, says the bracelets stay on for 30 days at a time and are cut off once a month so the batteries can be changed and the unit tested.
Ms. Arenburg says this system is more effective than GPS because, if someone were inside a building or had crawled under a bush, a GPS signal could be blocked but the radio signal could still be detected.
There is a one-time enrolment fee of $300, and a $25 per month service fee to cover new batteries and repairs, Ms. Arenburg said.
The ongoing search in Montreal for Adam Benhamma, a three-year-old who has been missing since Sunday, has some in the autism community wondering if similar programs should be implemented elsewhere. Quebec has no similar tracking program in effect.
Nathalie Garcin, executive director of the Abe Gold Learning and Research Centre in Montreal, a non-profit organization that focuses on autism research and education, would like to see Quebec implement a tracking program.
"I think it's a very good idea," she said. "An initiative like this is not an expensive one, so I don't think it's money ill spent."
She's also convinced the small size of the bracelets will minimize the chance of stigma associated with autism, a particular issue for seniors. "It's not a huge device hanging around your neck. It's the size of a watch now, so it's not intrusive," she said.
Barry Thorsteinson, president of the National Pensioners and Senior Citizens Federation, supports Nova Scotia's initiative, provided seniors consent to wearing the bracelet.