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Resources and Stories from Angel Flight West.

Dogs With Wings: AFW Partners with Search Dog Foundation

Since our inception, Angel Flight West (AFW) has proudly joined forces with a range of non-profits that extend and enhance our mission of delivering health and hope through donated flights. In 2020, we embarked on one of our most enriching collaborations yet — by offering continued support to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF).

Command Pilot Jerry Phan takes to the skies with Keiki

Rescuing and recruiting dogs for partnership with first-responders, SDF supplies crucial canines to search for people who are trapped or buried after catastrophe. This past year alone, 20 ‘graduates’ completed a range of SDF trainings. Several of these dogs are now able to perform rescue operations in a wide variety of scenarios, from earthquakes to collapsed buildings.

As a number of those dogs came from all across the western United States, AFW reliably provided free transportation for these heroes-in-training.

“Our cost savings are significant,” said Sylvia Stoney, manager of SDF canine recruitment. “Engaging with these pilots has helped us tremendously with our canine transportation needs, especially during COVID. The fact they’re willing to do what they do at no cost is incredible.” 

To date, AFW has bolstered disaster response operations by transporting more than 30 dogs to the SDF campus in Santa Paula, California. In addition to receiving thorough medical screenings, the animals are expertly trained to work alongside firefighters and other first-responders.

And it’s all free of charge. After all, these dogs aren’t exactly motivated by money.

“[SDF dogs] must have an intense toy drive,” Stoney said. “That’s our reward base. Our training also includes enrichment activities that focus on the mental and physical well-being of each dog.”

Truth be told, these remarkable animals are getting far more than a chance at a new toy. According to SDF CEO George Haynes, SDF frequently takes an interest in homeless animals deemed too hyperactive or unadoptable — dogs who would otherwise often be considered for euthanization. Haynes notes AFW plays a significant role in sparing them from that fate.

Search Dog Trainee Exo

“By volunteering their time and their planes,” Haynes said, “[AFW pilots] help give these special dogs new lives as search dogs. AFW elevates our recruitment of dogs from throughout the country so they can be trained as life-saving resources for our communities.”

Once trained and certified alongside dedicated first-responders, SDF dogs are routinely deployed across the United States. While there’s no telling what their adventures might entail, there’s no question their presence in times of crisis can make a big difference.

We suspect many AFW volunteer pilots can relate.

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