In April of 2007, a call came in to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation office about a potential canine candidate. It was Penny Woodruff, a volunteer and foster home for the non-profit High Sierra Animal Rescue (HSAR) in Portola, CA. Penny had previously rescued SDF search dog Zoey. Now she had pulled a Border Collie mix out of a shelter and wanted us to take a look at him. Because of his unique facial markings, she had dubbed him “Jester.”
Penny said of Jester, “He was turned in to the animal shelter by his owner, who said he was giving him up because Jester kept jumping the fence. At only one year old, Jester was on the euthanasia list, and we (HSAR) took him because we knew we could save him and find him a new home. We had him for weeks, and everyone thought he was so cute, but he had an abundance of energy! And he could just fly over a seven-foot fence with no problem. He was so proud of being an escape artist and had such a great attitude, that we all just fell in love with him. He made us smile…he’s so great.
“Jester was a sure-footed, bold, friendly Aussie-border collie mix. After playing with him again one afternoon, I got to see first-hand how focused he could be. I accidentally threw a tug toy kind of crooked and he lost sight of it. He kept looking for it until he found it and I was impressed by his dedication. I knew I had to call SDF,” Penny recalls.
SDF handler Jason Cornell, a Firefighter/Paramedic with the Sacramento Metro Fire Department, had also acquired his canine partner, the aforementioned Zoey, with help from HSAR. During a visit to High Sierra with Zoey, Jason tested Jester and recognized some extraordinary attributes. He agreed to transport Jester to Gilroy so he could begin his search and rescue training at Sundowners Kennels, which was SDF’s training kennel at the time. Almost immediately, SDF staff and trainers realized that Jester enjoyed being noticed. Without a doubt, he has distinctive and quite attractive markings – and he knows it! He was nicknamed “Mr. Hollywood,” because he loved a photo-op!
Sundowners’ trainer Kate Davern said, “At first, it was hard to get Jester to bark at the ‘victim.’ But once he understood what he was supposed to do, he ended up being a really noisy dog!” According to Karen Klingberg, SDF’s then Canine Manager, “He is the only dog they’ve had at the SDF training facility in Gilroy that refuses to stay in his kennel. Jester once scaled the 6-foot-tall wall of his kennel to visit another of his fellow trainees. After that, they had to keep a close eye on him.”
After months of training at Sundowners Kennels, Jester was ready to be partnered with firefighter Davis Doty of Orange County Fire Authority. Jester went home to Yorba Linda, CA with Davis in December of 2007 and was swiftly incorporated into his family and work life.
The team achieved Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Certification in September of 2008, which enabled them to deploy with their fire department or California Task Force 5 (CA-TF5) anywhere disaster may strike in the United States. The team then Re-Certified in June 2011, February 2014, and most recently March 2017! Each team must test every three years to maintain deployment-ready status. It was truly incredible that Davis and Jester achieved Certification four times during their careers, as rarely is a canine physically up to the task. But to see Jester on the rubble pile at that test in 2017, you would think he was a dog half his age. His ability to traverse shifting surfaces beneath his feet and fly over rubble at his age was remarkable! It truly reinforced that Jester was doing what he was put on this Earth to do.
The team had deployed for the first time when a man went missing in Laguna Beach, CA, in 2009. And they did help find the man (seen at left with Search Dogs Jester and Wylie) and bring him to safety! Davis told us after, “A big learning point for me after that search was how effective a canine can be. Prior to Jester and me starting our search helicopter HD and FLIR cameras were used to find our lost victim with no luck. It does not matter how many resources and specialized technical tools are used there will always be a need for a live find search canine.”
When Davis & Jester had a break from active duty, they were SDF ambassadors and the faces of The Nutro Company’s Natural Choice High Endurance formula dog food. You may have seen them on bags of this brand of food, in stores across the country, for many years.
On August of 2017, Davis and Jester were called to action when CA-TF5 deployed to the Gulf States to help citizens in areas devastated by Hurricane Harvey. This was the first time in U.S. history that all 28 FEMA task forces were activated and mobilized at the same time for the same event. Task Force members were able to return home once the missing were accounted for and they had done all they could to help the communities affected worst by the storm.
In December 2018, the Thomas Fire raged through Southern California and was at the time, the biggest in the state’s history. When the first strong storm came through weeks later, teams were deployed when a massive mudslide crippled the town of Montecito, killing twenty people. 18 SDF-trained canine teams took turns working around the clock in search for the missing, and Davis and Jester were proud to be a part of that search.
Two months later, Jester began to battle serious health problems. Throughout it all, he remained a happy dog and devoted partner to Davis.
On August 15, 2018, it became clear that Jester would cross the Rainbow Bridge soon. He passed peacefully that day with Davis at his side after spending his last hours surrounded by his family.
We are eternally grateful to Jester for his service to the citizens of this country. He was a special dog who we will miss very much.