The Search Dog Foundation is marking their tenth year of service and welcoming 20 new canine-firefighter disaster research teams to their national roster.
The agency, based in Ojai, CA, deployed search groups to find Hurricane Katrina victims in the fall and again with Hurricane Rita.
Twenty-six advanced-certified canine teams were called out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to look for people buried alive in the wreckage left by Katrina.
Four Foundation Florida teams were immediately deployed to the areas hardest hit and began searching Aug. 30th.
The critical importance of these canine teams was underscored on Sept. 4th, according to The Foundation, with the discovery of a 70-year-old man buried alive under the debris of his home in Biloxi, Miss.
Each Urban, Search & Rescue (USAR) Task Force is comprised of teams of first-responders trained to perform post-disaster rescue operations.
“When a major disaster occurs, families depend on canine search teams to make sure that their loved ones are safe and that no one has been left behind in the wreckages,” said Debra Tosch, Foundation executive director.
The agency is a non-profit that trains and provides highly skilled search teams at no cost to fire departments and other emergency service agencies throughout the country.
From Bonnie to two Abbeys in Florida and California, to numerous other brave dogs, search teams are located in Florida, New York, Ohio, Mexico, and Washington, D.C.
The search dog profile is a Labrador, Golden Retriever, Border Collie, or other hunting or herding breed, 9-18 months old in good health, bold energetic, athletic, well-socialized, not fearful or aggressive to people or other dogs, not afraid of noise, sudden movements, or unstable or hazardous footing, able to ignore extraneous noises, and spayed or neutered.
Prospective applicants perform a toy test on their animal to see if they fit the profile.
Once a rescued dog is accepted into the program that dog will never have to be rescued again, according to the Foundation.
Most search dogs remain with their dog handlers throughout their lifetime.
Eric Hasslam is one handler that the Foundation said is a model for how other handlers should be.