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Rescued Dogs Become Search and Rescue Heroes

By Linda Cole

Sometimes you have to look deeper inside a pet to see the real spirit lurking below the surface, waiting for the right person to set it free. Some people think shelter animals aren't worthy of their attention and don't consider adopting them. However, many great shelter dogs and cats turn out to be a pet that saves the life of their owner. National Disaster Search Dog Foundation is a nonprofit and non-government organization that provides firefighters, who are first responders, with rescued shelter dogs that have been trained for Search and Rescue (SAR) work. Even a scruffy shelter dog has the potential of becoming a hero who might one day save your life or someone you love.

Dogs end up in shelters for a number of reasons: their owner didn't understand how to handle behavioral problems, picked the wrong dog for their lifestyle or grew tired of the dog, or the dog became lost or was dumped. Hollywood dog trainers have known for decades that animal shelters are a great place to find pets that are smart, loyal and eager to work. The pet just needed a person who saw their potential and was willing to make a commitment to work with the dog to develop his hidden abilities.

Organizations looking for Search and Rescue dogs have also discovered that animal shelters are full of untrained dogs that only need a steady and compassionate hand to teach them the art of locating people who become lost or buried under rubble after a natural disaster. Not every canine is up to the task of being a SAR dog, but many are and you only have to go as far as the local shelter to find them.

National Disaster Search Dog Foundation matches firefighters with shelter dogs, and trains both the handler and dog in Search and Rescue and how to work as a team. Currently, handlers and dogs are trained at Sundowners Kennel in Gilroy, California, but a permanent training facility in southern California is in the works and is very much needed.

SAR dogs have proven their true worth and dedication in doing their job better than we can do ourselves. Even with modern day technology, there is nothing more effective than a dog's nose for locating someone buried under rubble. Without the unique ability of dogs aiding in a search, many more lives would be lost. Rescuing and training shelter dogs for this important job is a win-win for everyone.

Those who search shelters for just the right dog know exactly what they are looking for. Armed only with a toy, they want to find a dog who responds with curiosity to the toy. They're looking for specific characteristics in the dog and how he/she acts, especially when it comes to playing tug of war. The qualities of a good Search and Rescue dog are easy to find when you know what to look for.

National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was founded in 1996 by a retired Physical Education teacher named Wilma Melville. Wilma and her black lab Murphy went through the Federal Emergency Management Agency training to become certified as an Advanced Disaster Search Dog team. Wilma and Murphy were deployed to Oklahoma City after the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building. Because there were only 15 search teams in the entire country who were certified to work a disaster site, Wilma knew more teams needed to be trained. She was determined to find a way to ensure there would be enough teams ready to go for the next large scale disaster. Today, there are around 100 SAR teams who are ready to go wherever they are needed.

Twenty teams are based in locations in Tornado Alley. Nine teams are in Oklahoma, four in Nebraska and Dallas, and three teams are stationed in Florida. Midwest states without teams are working with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation to get more teams into these critical areas.

No one expects to be touched by a natural disaster, but they can and do happen in our own backyards. We can't stop Mother Nature, but we need to be as prepared as we can to help deal with the aftermath in a quick and organized way to save as many lives as possible. Without Search and Rescue dogs, it would be impossible for humans to locate people buried in rubble, and any shelter dog could potentially be rescued and trained for this very important job.

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