Search Dog Training Center Gets Major Grant

Donation of $1.75 million from Bechtel Foundation paves way for completion of NDSDF’s California center.

By | Posted: November 12, 2014, 2 p.m. PST

Efforts to build America’s first permanent national training center for search dogs near Santa Paula, Calif., got a huge boost this past month as the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation announced it had received its largest donation ever, a $1.75 million grant from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation.

Search and Rescue Dog 

A search team trains on the 10,000-square-foot rubble pile at NDSDF. 

Since 1996 the nonprofit NDSDF has been dedicated to strengthening the country's emergency response network by training canine disaster search teams. The all-volunteer teams have saved lives around the world, rescuing people buried alive under the wreckage following natural and manmade disasters.

"My board of directors and I believe that the service SDF provides is critical to disaster response in America, and that its programs will continue to provide an important benefit to the country for decades to come,’’ says Lauren Dachs, president of the foundation, which has supported the effort since 2002. "We're confident that our gift will inspire steadfast SDF supporters as well as new contributors to come forward and help finish the campaign,’’ Dachs added.


Search Dog Foundation 

Lauren Dachs, president of the S. D. Bechtel Jr., Foundation, with NDSDF Founder Wilma Melville.

The grant includes a $500,000 cash contribution and $1.25 million more if NDSDF raises matching funds by Oct. 1, 2015. The funds will help SDF complete construction of a National Training Center in Ventura County -- 90 minutes north of Los Angeles. The state-of-the-art center will provide care for the canines who are recruited from shelters and train new search teams.

Raising $18.8 million of its $20 million goal has taken a new direction since the effort began more than a decade ago.

"In those early days fundraising was a homespun enterprise,’’ notes SDF Founder, Wilma Melville. "The money for training our first teams came from selling watermelons from the back of a truck, ice cream socials, and ‘rattlesnake avoidance clinics’ for dogs.

"It's different now. Individuals and family foundations, businesses and community groups from across the country are part of the search. The training center is our gift to the nation -- and a big thank you to everyone who has put their faith in us.’’ 

Emergency services leaders are excited by the prospect of having a permanent training center fully up and operational by 2016. "The search teams need a home, and SDF, the nation's leader in the field of canine disaster search, is the right organization to build it,’’ says Mike Antonucci, SDF board member and manager of the San Bernardino County Office of Emergency Services.

Once completed, canine disaster search teams from across America and around the world can take advantage of the center, all provided at no cost and with no government funding.

 Mike Antonucci

At the center, currently construction is moving forward with the Canine Pavilion, which will accommodate 40 dogs in double-occupancy kennels. Here, dogs recruited from animal shelters will receive expert care and be evaluated for the program. Those with the qualities needed in a search dog will receive eight to 10 months of training. Dogs not destined for search and rescue will be trained in obedience and placed with a Lifetime Care Family.

Parts of the training center are already busy with activity. A transitional kennel houses 16 canine candidates. On a 10,000-square-foot rubble pile, dog teams are conducting simulated searches and getting the experience they'll one day use to save lives.

SDF’s handlers are excited about the new training center. "It will give us a permanent place to train and have the proper classrooms to network with other canine search team specialists,’’ says Eric Gray of the Santa Barbara County Fire Deparment. "Also, I'm happy we'll be able to bring our families to the center. As firefighters we're away from them so much. It'll be great to spend the time training without taking away from family time.’’

To learn more about SDF visit


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