Attention Godzilla: America’s Search Dogs Need You

Newly built Search City will become America’s first national training center for search dogs – after it gets destroyed.

By | Posted: August 21, 2014, 2 p.m. PST

Sitting high up in the peaceful, scenic canyons above Santa Paula, California, is a freshly built city waiting to be demolished.


Search Dog Site. Photo by Ernie Slone
Army and Navy volunteers have built these two new homes, plus a nearby motel, which will be turned into disaster training sites for search dogs. Photo by  Ernie Slone, I-5 Publishing LLC


That’s right, brand new houses and even a motel, constructed to meet strict California code by U.S. Army Reserve and Navy Seabee volunteers, awaits a master of destruction.

No worries, all the mayhem is for a great cause.

Working tirelessly for years the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation has raised more than $17 million as it builds a permanent national training center on 125 acres in the Southern California foothills. Now they just need some help from a master of disaster, perhaps a bit of creative genius from Disney or Hollywood, to help them turn it into a realistic disaster training zone.



It is no easy feat to order up a tornado or earthquake, and what is key to the new training center is to simulate in realistic detail what the life-saving dogs and their handlers face when they respond to earthquakes, tornadoes and other natural catastrophes across the U.S. and around the world. The three-acre Disaster Training Zone will have 10 separate training venues, ensuring teams facing new disaster challenges each time they train.

Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams>>

The years-long journey toward training more search dogs, and establishing a permanent national training center, is due to the grit and determination of its founder, retired schoolteacher Wilma Melville.

In April 1995 Melville and her black Labrador Retriever search dog, Murphy, rushed to the site of the terrorist bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. At that time they were one of only 15 Advanced Certified disaster search dog-handler teams in the United States, and that glaring need made Melville determined to find a way to train highly skilled canine teams. So in 1996 she founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.

All of the search dogs are rescues, canines eager for a job and filled with untapped energy. The NDSDF works with dozens of shelters and breed rescue groups to place and train hundreds of dogs. The organization has deployed teams to respond to a wide range of disasters, from tornados and mudslides to building explosions and train derailments.

Search Dog Hank. Photo by Ernie Slone
Search dog Huck, an 8-year-old Labrador Retriever, was a rescue, like all of the dogs given new search and rescue purposes by the NDSDF. Photo by Ernie Slone, I-5 Publishing LLC


Why is a permanent site needed?

"When our search teams respond to disasters they encounter extreme conditions and terrifically challenging search scenarios,’’ says Melville, who has been honored with a CNN Hero Award. "To be fully prepared for anything they may encounter in their effort to save lives, the teams need to train in an environment that simulates these conditions.’’


The Army and Navy signed on to give their engineers a chance to train for disaster response construction missions, both in the U.S. and overseas. "I have developed a great admiration for SDF and what the organization means to the first-responder community,’’ says Army Lt. Col. David Goodwin.

When complete Search City will give search teams from fire departments and other emergency services across the country a chance to train on full-scale, real-life and ever-changing disaster simulation props, getting them prepared to save lives across the nation.

"Training props are very limited now in the U.S. and for a long time we have been using insufficient static rubble piles,’’ says Julie Padelford-Jansen, a search and rescue handler with the city of Miami Fire & Rescue. "It’s incredible to look forward to training on collapsed buildings with changeable interiors.’’

To find out more about the foundation and how you can help visit

Read More Editor Off-Leash with DOG FANCY editor Ernie Slone>>

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Eileen - 249708   Port Perry, ON

8/22/2014 5:17:35 AM

Great story and great work!

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