Charity Carlson has raised service dogs for the disabled for many years. While she loves training service dogs and plans to continue this work, she was looking for something more challenging to do.
She contacted the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to inquire about becoming a Prep Home volunteer, and her wish to be challenged was answered by a two-month-old Border Collie named Comet, born on July 4th, 2003.
Comet had been donated to SDF by Deresa Teller, an SDF Search Dog handler, who had also donated Comet’s sister, Gypsy. From the very first day, Charity realized how training a dog for SDF was very different from training other service dogs. Service dogs generally are very mellow and quiet, while a Search Dog candidate is quite the opposite!
Charity says Comet was extremely persistent, but also exceptionally smart and loyal. Charity had her work cut out for her. She needed to adapt her approach to training to a manner that would appeal to Comet’s personality and the type of work he would be performing. The dog immediately enjoyed being cared for by Charity and quickly learned basic commands and social skills.
Charity would take Comet to the playground to practice his agility skills, and the moment he saw the playground equipment, he was in his element. He acted as though the jungle gym was created for dogs. He would climb ladders, balance himself on beams, and go down the slide non-stop (even though he didn’t like the slide very much). Charity said of Comet, “He would do anything I asked. He is a quick learner and full of energy!”
At four months of age, Comet earned the nickname “Cat Dog.” Comet took the skills he honed on the playground equipment and used them around the house in a catlike manner. While a friend of Charity’s was watching Comet, she placed his squeeze toy on top of three stacked crates. Comet decided he wanted his toy so he promptly hopped on the couch, walked gingerly across the windowsill, scaled the crates, retrieved the toy, and jumped down. Charity had to laugh when she heard the story, because that was just like Comet!
Comet was the gratifying challenge Charity had been looking for. She is so proud of all that Comet had learned in his seven months with her. She also learned a lot from him.
At nine months, stronger and even more determined than when he had come to Charity, Comet moved on to Sundowners Kennel in Gilroy, CA, where he completed his formal training. The following year, in May of 2006, Comet was paired with Firefighter-Handler Michele Vaughn of the Salinas Fire Department and, as they say, the rest is history.
Michele and Comet worked hard and trained daily as members of California Task Force 4. In November of 2007, Michele and Comet achieved their advanced FEMA Certification. This enabled them to respond to disasters such as the aftermath of Hurricanes Ike and Gustav in 2008. In October of 2010, Michele and Comet passed the FEMA Re-certification in order to maintain their deployment-ready status.
When this last certification expired on October 9, 2013, Michele decided it was time to retire Comet at the age of 10. Michele conveyed her feelings to her training group leader, “I have had an excellent time participating with the team and have learned a lot. I would like to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunity and experience. I wish the team continued success and know I will read and hear about the good work being done.”
Comet enjoyed life as a family pet in Michele’s Northern California home until he crossed the Rainbow Bridge on October 18th, 2017 with his partner at his side. Comet was thirteen years of age.
“I am truly grateful for the opportunity to have had this little man in a fur suit in my life. Chris and I feel extremely privileged to know this little being; he is very special to many people and has without a doubt touched many lives of people. I am so glad I got to share him with other handlers in handler courses; I’m sure he taught them well as he taught me. We want to express our sincere gratitude for the foundation and all you have done and continue to do for search dogs and the handlers, especially us. I also want to thank Deresa for helping to make such a wonderful creature and donating him to the foundation; he is truly amazing. As well as Charity for doing a wonderful job puppy raising him. You helped shape him and make him successful.”