NDSDF takes in dogs otherwise slated for euthanization at pounds - screens them for personality/motivation and trains them to become FEMA-certified search-and-rescue dogs (they are then donated to fire departments around the country). Interestingly, the qualities that make a superb search dog often makes them terrible pets for most families - they are high-energy, restless creatures that have the canine equivalent of ADHD; if they are shut home every day without an outlet to run and play, their relentless energy and boredom makes them difficult housepets for sedate households. And so every day, families send these dogs to pounds, where most of them are unfortunately euthanized for lack of a place where their boundless energy are appreciated or put to good use.
The training event in Gilroy was a way for NDSDF to thank its supporters and donors and showcasing the animals that are brought in and trained by their staff. This was the first time I got a chance to meet with the founder, Wilma Melville, and the chief trainer Pluis Davern who described the intense nine-month gauntlet the dogs are put through before they are ready to be considered a fully-trained search dog.
During the presentation, Pluis related a story about 9/11; the day after the attack she got a phone call from a distraught firefighter "Oh my God, I think I broke my dog!"
After calming him down, she got the story.
Awake for 24 hours and under the kind of unbelievable stress that we can only imagine an FDNY fireman was working under on 9/12/01, he took his search dog to the perimeter of a debris mound at the site. When he ordered her to continue walking past the rubble pile beyond his line of sight, she sat on her haunches and refused the command. Now this is highly erratic behavior for a fully-trained dog, and in exasperation, he screamed "GO! GO NOW!"
To which his dog turned around and obediently walked ... into a puddle of burning oil.
As it turned out - the animal was burned but not permanently injured and was back at work after a few weeks of recovery, but it was a stark reminder of the level of bonding that the training can instill in the animals ... and the responsibility that human handlers have in directing them. A trained dog does not refuse commands on a whim.
We wrapped up the event with an announcement of a new $10,000 sponsor of Ellie, a golden retriever who was assigned to a firefighter in Carmel, CA. All in all, a great day spent to witness people working at an amazing cause.
A very happy birthday indeed.
Dog-lovers interested in supporting the Search Dog Foundation are welcome to read more about the organization or ask me anything about them. :)
Special thanks to badwolf for loan of a Rebel XT. :)