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Since 1996, The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) has given former shelter dogs a second chance at life while training them to back to our communities. Their unique program truly transforms the rescued to the rescuer.
SDF founder Wilma Melville knew she had to take canine rescue into her own hands in the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings. Assisting in the search for survivors was her Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certified black lab, Murphy. There were only 15 FEMA certified search dogs on the scene, and only one survivor was found by a dog. That experience proved to Wilma that there was a great need for these dog's abilities, but they weren't being utilized to their fullest.
Returning home with a mission to change and flourish the make-up of the canine rescue network, Wilma founded SDF in 1996. Her goal was to strengthen disaster response in America with the focus in working with canines. She saw the talent, heart, ability, and assistance these amazing dogs could offer and knew others could benefit from it.
Wilma's program was based on recruiting rescued dogs and training them in search and rescue techniques. By improving the ways search dogs were chosen and trained, she prepared them to be partnered with firefighters and other first responders and key members of the team.
The devastation left in the wake of the 2010 Haitian earthquake presented a pressing need for canine disaster teams trained by SDF. Seven teams were put to work as soon as they set foot off the plane.
Thanks to the excellent training given by SDF, the canine teams were able to bring 12 people to safety during their 16 day deployment, the greatest number of live finds ever made by an American search team. Since then, SDF canine teams have been called on to save lives alongside first responders in disasters around the globe including tornados, tsunamis, gas explosions, missing people cases, floods, hurricanes, and more.
Today SDF is the only organization in America utilizing former shelter dogs as first responders. Once trained, their talents are offered at no cost to fire, police, and emergency rescue departments. They now have over 60 teams located in California, Florida, Ohio, Washington D.C., and the State of Baja California, Mexico.
As we celebrate and observe Labor Day this year with barbecues and end of summer vacations, let's remember the heroic, hardworking dogs of SDF who've helped save lives. Thank you SDF for giving these lost dogs a purpose!