August - September, 2004 - Hurricane Charley
On a Friday afternoon at 3:56 p.m. the strongest storm to hit Florida in a dozen years slammed ashore with winds of up to 145 mph, leaving an 80-mile path of destruction in its wake. By 11 p.m. the call was out to SDF search teams Mike Conners & Hobbes (Florida Task Force 1), Scott Racow & Heidi and Sylvia Arango & Abby (Florida Task Force 2). By the next morning the teams were searching for survivors in Punta Gorda, the city worst hit by the hurricane, a hundred miles south of Tampa.
In the wake of the disaster SDF’s teams responded in communities hardest hit. They searched trailer parks, where 80% of homes were destroyed. Over, under and through every pile of wreckage, the dogs searched tirelessly for a trace of any human beings trapped in the debris. They went house to house in neighborhoods hit worst by the storm. At the Charlotte County Airport they searched through what was left of collapsed hangars and buildings, overturned planes and helicopters.
In the words of our handlers:
"The dogs did so well, searched so thoroughly, with such concentration and skill, we knew if they didn’t find anybody there was no one to find. We could see by the way they worked that they had been trained right.”
— Scott Racow
“I could tell Hobbes was saying, ‘Yahoo! This is what we train for!’ They worked their little hearts out, and did extremely well under very difficult conditions. It was hot, cramped, and they were climbing over sharp surfaces—but there were no injuries. It was a true test, and the dogs passed with flying colors.”
— Mike Conners
“The deployment tested the ability and endurance of the dogs. Despite very trying conditions they performed admirably, and were ready, eager and confident to do the job that they trained so hard and long for.”
— Sylvia Arango