Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams

By | Posted:February 27, 2011 2:30 p.m.

Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams
Wilma Melville, founder of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, is on a mission to create the nation's first training center for search dogs.
Photo: Ernie Slone, Dog Fancy
In April 1995 retired schoolteacher and grandmother Wilma Melville and her black Labrador Retriever Murphy rushed to the site of the terrorist bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

At that time there were only 15 Advanced Certified disaster search dog/handler teams in the United States and the experience with that glaring need gave Wilma a determination to find a way to train highly skilled canine teams. So in 1996 she founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which today has helped place more than 100 skilled search and rescue teams in service across the country.

Since then the foundation has rescued and trained hundreds of dogs from shelters and has deployed teams to Hurricane Katrina, last year's earthquake in Haiti and a wide range of disasters, from tornados to mudslides to building explosions and train derailments.

Despite all the progress, there remains a critical need for many, many more trained teams.

So the foundation is raising money to build the nation’s first National Training Center in Santa Paula, Calif. Next Sept. 11, the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, foundation supporters will gather to honor those who perished, to recognize the incredible work of the K9 teams and support staff, and to formally launch construction.

Find out more, and how you can help in this wonderful cause by visiting http://www.searchdogfoundation.org. In coming months I will be sharing more about this inspiring organization and project, vital to all potential disaster victims -- which means all of us.

To get a first-hand look at these amazing dogs and their handlers, the NDSDF invited the DOG FANCY editorial team to visit one of their twice-weekly search exercises, essential to keeping the teams ready to save lives at the next major disaster. What the video can’t fully show is that, like the desperate situations they encounter in real life, the training itself is dangerous to both the dogs and their handlers.

The DOG FANCY editors especially want to thank the five search dog teams, all unpaid volunteers, who put themselves and their dogs at risk constantly to be ready in times of emergency.  

Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams
Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams

 Marc Valentine and Val

Su Vodrazka and Hero

Marc is a fire captain in Montebello, California. Val, age 13, started out with Canine Companions for Independence but had too much drive for an assistance dog. That drive and his easy nature made him an ideal search-dog candidate.

Su, a deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, along with her black Lab Hero are a popular sight with Los Angeles train commuters. When not on a rescue assignment, they patrol Union Station in LA, drawing shouts of "HERO! HERO! HERO!’’ from a devoted following of commuters.

Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams

Russell Tao and Andy

Nicole Reusser-Hillbrecht
and Frida

Russell is a firefighter with the Chino Valley Fire Department. Andy was rescued by Golden Retriever Rescue of Wisconsin. He was named in honor of the memory of a girl killed in the World Trade Center attack and his training was paid in part through a memorial fund established by her family. 

Frida is Nicole’s personal dog, not from NDSDF, although she trains with the teams. Nicole, a trainer with Falco K9 Academy in Brea, adopted Frida from Malinois Rescue in Southern California. "She was 4 months old, very skinny, old and new wounds all over her, a rip on one of her ears but a social butterfly and very, very active. That's when we decided to call her Frida after Frida Kahlo, the Mexican painter who, herself had a bad accident when she was young but still was energetic, brave and courageous.’’

Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams

Wade J. Haller and Rex

Wade, with the Long Beach Fire Department,
partners with Rex, a black Labrador that is the
offspring of champion field trial and duck hunting
dogs. His high drive has made him a great fit for
the challenging search and rescue work.

 - Read more of Editor Off Leash -



4 of 9 Comments View All 9 Comments

Give us your opinion Give us your opinion on Going Nose to Nose with K9 Search Teams

User Avatar

Jo Ann   Lodgepole, NE

3/25/2011 7:44:24 PM

Loved the video, seeing the dogs and people training! Keep up the excellent work!

User Avatar

Mary Loomis   Fullerton, CA

3/13/2011 7:59:37 PM

I thank all the rescue people & their dogs for all they do. The article was very good. I think the dog rescue groups as well as shelters should look into this to save dogs lives and give them a "job" to do. I plan on looking into this myself with my now 2 yr old GSD. She is already a Therapy dog, but I'd like to do more with her. She's a working dog with a high pray drive.

User Avatar

Connie   Dunedin, FL

3/11/2011 2:43:51 PM

God bless the dedicated rescue dogs fo althey do.

User Avatar

Karen   Seabrook, NH

3/11/2011 10:55:50 AM

Maybe this would be a GREAT way to save some of the shelter dogs who people surrender because "they can't manage them" - This happens all too frequently. Maybe reach out to the larger shelters that have many contacts (Best Friends for one) to see how that connection can be made!!

Login to get points for commenting or write your comment below

First Name : Email :
International :
City : State :

Captcha Image

Get New Captcha

Top Products