On Tuesday evening we received this text message from our handler Jason Smith in Missouri:
"Brent and I are leaving Joplin now after almost two full days of searching. Our Task Force has completed its work in the area assigned to them and has been released by Command. We are headed home to the severe weather and tornadoes that await us in Oklahoma."
All of us at SDF are all extremely proud of Brent & Huck and Jason & Jagger who responded to the tornado deployment with the utmost professionalism, skill, and courage.
Minutes after receiving Jason's text message we learned that two more of our Oklahoma teams, Mark Edwards & Taz and Dane Yaw & Salsa, had been deployed in Oklahoma City—their home base—in anticipation of the tornadoes touching down there. Dane texted us Wednesday:
"We demobilized around 4:30 this morning. This tornado system had legs and ran a long way, but most of the storms were thin so the damage was isolated to 200 yard swaths. The large tornados were rural. People heeded the warnings—metro schools and most businesses closed early. If one of the big tornados had hit a populated area it would have been a major disaster."
The Search Dog Foundation began in Oklahoma City, with Wilma's deployment to the Federal Building bombing. There are now SDF Search Teams based all across "tornado alley": in Oklahoma, in Nebraska, in Texas and in Florida. We have requests coming in from fire departments in other Midwest states, so that when disaster strikes in their region, no one will be left behind.
SDF's Lead Trainer, Pluis Davern, trained each one of the Oklahoma dogs and handlers, traveling often to Oklahoma to work with the teams in freezing cold and blazing heat. Each handler is like family to her—she knows all of the canines as if they were her own. She sent us her thoughts on the deployment today:
"Watching these once cast-off dogs, that with training have become life-saving tools, fills me with unmitigated pride and a deep humility for this species that can and does do so much for humankind."
Today we also received a heartfelt call from Stella, the Adoption Manager at Haven Humane Society in Northern California where we found Jagger:
"We are so proud! Oh my God, it's just fabulous to have a rescued dog turn into a rescuer! I may cry over the phone talking about this, but people think that dogs are throw-away, when they have their own stories, just like people. The shelter is an orphanage, that's how I think of it. Jagger was picked up as a stray and his owner never came to claim him. When they have an innate sense, it's so great to let them put that to use."
May 24, 2:49am CST: text message from Brent Koeninger
"We're done searching until first light. We were searching debris piles for missing people from an apartment building—checking in the trees, on roofs, etc. We had to start limiting the area we used the dogs to search, because the area was just too big."
May 23, 2011: SDF Canine Search Teams deployed to Joplin, Missouri
Two of SDF’s five Canine-Firefighter Teams based in Oklahoma City—Brent Koeninger & Huck and Jason Smith & Jagger—have been deployed to Joplin, MO, as part of Oklahoma Task Force 1 to search for survivors of the tornado that has devastated the area.
The teams started searching at 2:00am Central time today, working in shifts along with two Tulsa-based Search Teams. Jason reported via text message that their canine partners are in good spirits and working well.
They searched approximately 40 structures during their first shifts. During the early morning hours Huck showed interest in several vehicles buried in rubble. His handler later learned that someone had been pulled from one of those vehicles a few hours earlier—which was the “residual scent” Huck had detected but not alerted on.
Huck and Jagger are both “rescued dogs turned rescuers.” Huck was discovered at San Francisco’s East Bay SPCA, Jagger at the Haven Humane Society near Redding in Northern California.
“As the minutes tick by, more and more folks are being accounted for. So proud to be a part of the rescue operations, a part of Oklahoma Task Force 1, and part of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.” - Jason Smith
SDF is training 21 new Search Teams in 2011. Four Los Angeles teams were partnered May 10th. Four new Tulsa handlers and one Dallas handler begin their training today in Santa Paula, CA at the site of SDF’s future National Training Center. They are working with veteran SDF dogs, learning the skills they’ll need to respond to future disasters in the tornado zone. They’ll be partnered with their own dogs next week, and will then begin the year of training to become certified and deployment-ready.