Joining the Search: National Disaster Search Dog Foundation & Angel Flight West
by Ivan Martinez, Director of Outreach & Wing Operations
So Cal Wing Leader Jeff Moorhouse knows a great outreach opportunity when he sees one. Considering the most recent connection he made, it might be more fitting to say he has a “nose” for it. Thanks to Jeff’s help, Angel Flight West is now partnering with The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and supporting them in the hunt for America’s next rescue dogs.
Based in Santa Paula, California, the Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a nonprofit organization whose mission “is to strengthen disaster response in America by producing highly skilled canine disaster search teams to search for victims of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.” They have been rescuing shelter dogs and turning them into rescuers since 1996. What is unique about SDF, is the fact that they are “the only organization in the U.S. that recruits rescued dogs, gives them ongoing professional training, and partners them with firefighters and other first responders at no cost to their departments.”
Jeff and I had the opportunity to meet with SDF and tour the training campus this past October. We started the morning with a golf cart tour of their incredibly impressive training campus. You know these pups are getting some serious training when there are two actual passenger train cars staged into a train wreck disaster, and that’s just one of the many disaster scenarios on the campus. We then had the opportunity to see some of their freshman cadets in action and get a brief lesson into search dog training 101. Following the tour, we sat down to learn more about the major transportation challenges SDF faced to transport their canine heroes, which had become increasingly difficult due to the additional travel restrictions imposed because of Covid-19. By the end of the visit, we knew it wasn’t a question of if AFW could help, but how soon we could get started.
There are several steps in the process of a shelter dog becoming a search dog. SDF recruiters scout shelters throughout the country, searching for high-energy, toy-obsessed dogs that are often deemed unadoptable because of their hyperactive energy and may well be scheduled to be euthanized. If a dog passes an initial evaluation, SDF arranges for a veterinarian health certificate to travel, prepares the traveling crate, and then, if it’s a fit for AFW, submits the flight request to the mission ops team. This is when AFW volunteer pilots step in and provide the wings for a dog’s second chance and a new life as a search dog.
“We are grateful to the pilots and the dynamic team at Angel Flight West who support our SDF Family by volunteering their time and their planes to help give these special dogs a new life as search dogs,” shares SDF Executive Director George Haynes. “Their generosity and appreciation for our mission will help us continue to elevate our recruitment of dogs from throughout the country so they can be trained as life-saving resources for our communities.”
In the end, the search dog is then paired with a firefighter and the pair will continue to train together until reaching certification. “Once certified, this highly trained team can be deployed to disasters anywhere in the nation,” says SDF.
We know what a difference a single flight can make. Through SDF, our future four-legged passengers will learn the skills to become an extraordinary asset in emergency situations. One dog can make a difference, too, and we’re excited to play a role in making it happen.