Recently, we passed the 15th anniversary of 9/11. Many heroes were made that day, including the canine kind. Search and rescue dogs were utilized to go through the rubble of the Twin Towers to look for survivors, (NDSDF) recognizes how suited dogs are to rescue work. Their ability for unconditional love, desire to please and super-human noses make them essential in the disaster response process.
The NDSDF is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 by Wilma Melville. Wilma was one of the FEMA-certified Canine Search Specialists deployed after the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995. She and her dog Murphy were on-site doing all they could to find survivors. Unfortunately, Wilma noticed that there were just too few dogs available to cover such a large area and decided to do something about it.
This organization’s mission is to improve the canine disaster response process. As if that wasn’t enough, they also rescue shelter dogs in the process! They have recruiters nation-wide who visit shelters and look for qualified dogs to rescue, train and deploy when needed. When a dog is selected, they go through a two test screening process. They are shown a toy which is then hidden - first on flat ground and then in a pile of rubble that simulates a disaster scene. The dogs have to display certain traits such as athleticism, boldness, high toy drive and high energy. If a dog is deemed to have “what it takes”, the NDSDF has professional canine trainers work with them to learn all about search and rescue. The dog is then paired with a fire department or other first-responder for use in various disaster response scenarios, such as earthquakes, landslides, train derailments and even missing persons cases.
Finding dogs to fulfill the NDSDF mission is a critical part of the process. Thankfully, there are canine recruiters all over the country who assist the organization. One recruiter, Charlie Freeman, is right here in the Lowcountry! Charlie is the owner of Dog Daze Pet Care on Dupont Road in Charleston and I recently spoke with him. “I am like the scout that goes to the high school football games looking for raw talent.” he said, when asked to describe his role in the process. “The dog we are looking for is a very bold dog that is still loving and eager to please. Right about the time the dog quits being a fun house pet is when it starts being a good SAR [search & rescue] candidate.”
Charlie said that finding a dog like this is very rare. He is currently on a quest to draw awareness to the NDSDF and its mission so that he can inspire volunteers to help locally. “Volunteering is easy! I am just looking for someone to pre-test the dogs. The volunteer would visit local shelters and rescues and play with the dogs, then give me a shout when they find a dog that has the traits I am looking for. Then, I will pull the dog out of the shelter and continue [the process] with the filmed testing and vet check.” The volunteer will look for dogs between 1-2 years of age who can fetch a toy “vigorously, with passion.” The most common breeds tend to be Labs, Golden Retrievers, Malinois, German Shepards or Border Collies. People interested in volunteering their time for this amazing organization can contact Charlie at (843) 571-4433 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There are several other ways to further the mission of the NDSDF. You can sponsor a search dog and watch the entire process - from shelter to searcher - unfold. Workplace giving and legacy gifting are also ways to help. To find out more about donating, please visit https://searchdogfoundation.org/donate/.
We all know that something bad can happen in the blink of an eye in this world. It’s a comfort to know that if disaster strikes, there is hope. Charlie said “If you are so unlucky to be trapped in a collapsed building after an earthquake, there is one thing on this Earth that can save you. No person can do it. No machine can do it. Only a dog. For me, this is an incredibly humbling process to be involved in.” If you have been inspired to help and would like to learn more about the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, please visit their website: https://searchdogfoundation.org/.