Tsunami & earthquakes in Japan

March 11, 12:15 PM PST - 9.0 Earthquake strikes Japan! SDF Search Teams activated

Six Canine Disaster Search Teams trained by the Search Dog Foundation have been activated to respond to the deadly earthquake and Tsunami in Japan as part of Los Angeles County Task Force 2.

The L.A. Task Force was mobilized along with Virginia’s Task Force 1 by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) which has dispatched a Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) to help coordinate rescue efforts. According to USAID, each Task Force will be composed of approximately 72 personnel, including Urban Search and Rescue canines, and some 75 tons of rescue equipment.

The teams are in the process of getting health clearance for their dogs from their veterinarians, certifying that the dogs are in good health and able to deploy. They are then heading to the staging area near Los Angeles where they will meet up with the rest of the Task Force to await further orders.

We will provide ongoing updates as more information becomes available.

March 12, 11:15 AM PST - SDF Search Teams called into action

Our six SDF Canine Disaster Search Teams have arrived in Japan and will soon be traveling to the devastated region where the skills of the canines are critically needed to find people trapped in the rubble. The teams flew by way of Alaska, where the plane touched down to refuel. An airport van shuttled the dogs and their handlers to the snow so they could stretch their legs (and paws!).

The teams arrived around 10:30pm PST at Misawa Air Base in northern Japan. The 12 dogs did very well on the flight over and are bedded down with their handlers to rest after their long journey. They will soon be receiving official search assignments, traveling to the areas with the highest probability of survivors.

All rescue personnel will be awaiting a “bark alert” from the dogs, letting them know there is someone alive, possibly unconscious, in need of rescue. Everything the teams have learned during their intensive training will be put to use in saving lives.

“Coming only a year after our deployment to Haiti, the devastation in Japan underscores the critical importance of having the most highly skilled Canine Search Teams ready to deploy—locally, nationally and internationally—at a moment’s notice. Our hearts go out to the tens of thousands of people affected by the disaster, and our thoughts are with all the Task Force members sent in to make sure everything possible is done to find survivors and bring them to safety.”

– SDF Executive Directory Debra Tosch

March 13, 5:00 PM PST - SDF Search Teams ready to head to affected areas

Just before 4:00pm, Bill Monahan called me. The teams were up, had eaten breakfast and attended a briefing.

The K9 team shared a room with cots and crates and was able to get a decent night’s sleep. They have their gear ready and are waiting to leave the Air Force Base and head out to the affected areas. All members are together in one of the hangars.

The task force is divided into two teams: the red team and the blue team. The canine teams on the red team are Jasmine & Cadillac, Eric & Riley and Gary & Baxter. The blue team is Bill & Hunter, Linda & Joe and Ron & Pearl.

March 13, 5:35 PM PST - SDF Search Teams heading to Ofunato City

CA-TF2 is working out the transportation plan to the Ofunato City area on the northeast coast of Japan. Half of the Team will be working in the area of Ofunato City conducting reconnaissance and primary searches. The other half of the team will be assisting with logistics and equipment prep at the Misawa Air Base.

March 14, 3:34 PM PST - LA Task Force 2 preparing for search operations

It is early morning in Japan. Los Angeles Task Force 2, including 6 SDF Search Teams, is preparing for search operations. They will be working in the Ofunatio City area on the northeast coast of Japan. All task force members are in good health and spirits, and ready to go to work.

March 15, 9:10 AM PST - Search Teams began work yesterday at daybreak


This photograph shows the gymnasium that is housing USA-1 (VA-TF1), USA-2 (CA-TF2) and the UK Search Teams. This will be used as the Base of Operations (BoO) in Ofunato City.

All three task forces began working at daybreak yesterday. They are not dividing into red and blue team shifts. Everybody is working, including all of the canines.

There is the possibility of snow today.


March 16, 12:08 PM PST - Report from Gary Durian

We spoke to handler Gary Durian of L.A. County Fire on Tuesday at 4:00 pm California time (8:00 am Wednesday Japan time). Here is his report:

"It rained Tuesday, snowed all night, and is still snowing. Space heaters in the gym are helping to keep the Task Force personnel and the dogs warm when they’re not out searching. We are ‘delayering’ an area—Task Force members remove a layer of debris after it is searched and then we work the next layer.

We are divided into groups. Hunter and Joe are out searching now. When they finish, Cadillac, Baxter, and Riley will take their place. Pearl is resting today. The devastation from the tsunami is just unbelievable. The dogs are searching well and all their training has definitely paid off."

March 19, 8:52 am PST - Report from Captain Bill Monahan

We spoke with Captain Monahan (L.A. County Fire) early Thursday morning, Japan time. Here is Bill’s report about Tuesday’s search:

"It has been extremely cold—down in the 40s and 50s during the day. We worked all six dogs long and hard to cover as much ground as we could during daylight hours. We were racing against the clock to find live victims. The dogs thrive in cold weather, which was the main reason they could work for so long in such difficult terrain. All our training and experience, great cold weather gear, and the nutrition and supplements we feed our dogs came together to make this kind of intensive searching possible.

The Search Teams went out in groups of two to search a specific area. Once they got to their area, they broke into singles. For example, if two teams were sent to an area with 30 buildings to search, they divided the buildings up between them. Since this was a “hasty” search, they did not send both dogs into the same building in order to confirm the first dog’s search. Their job was to clear the area as quickly as possible."

A call from Donna Gray, wife of SDF Handler Eric Gray:

“I just got off the phone with my husband. He and Riley are doing well and the entire team is tired but in good spirits. He always thought Riley was a talented search dog, but he's seen him do things today that impressed him more than he could have ever imagined. He's humbled by everyone’s prayers and support. The team appreciates all of it. Please keep it coming...”

March 21, 8:30 am PST - Welcome home Search Teams!

Eric Gray, Santa Barbara County Fire:

“Just being at this deployment to Japan was life-changing for me. We were surrounded by complete destruction. I realized that the objects I was walking on had come from somewhere else far away. At first, it was challenging just to get your head around it all. Seeing the dogs function in this extreme search environment completely validated the training we have done."

This was SDF’s 76th deployment, and the first international deployment for Search Teams Eric Gray & Riley and Linda Tacconelli & Joe. The other four SDF teams deployed to Japan—Ron Horetski & Pearl, Bill Monahan & Hunter, Jasmine Segura & Cadillac, and Gary Durian & Baxter—are veterans of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake deployment where they helped bring 12 people to safety.

SDF Founder Wilma Melville was there when the teams returned:

"Last night I was at the Task Force facility near Los Angeles to welcome home our Search Teams from their deployment to Japan. You can imagine my joy, relief, and pride, when I saw the buses carrying the 72 members of Los Angeles Task Force 2 roll into the receiving area. The handlers looked tired and relieved, but also cheerful and upbeat, and so proud of their dogs! The welcoming crowd was full of warmth, admiration and appreciation. Though no survivors were found during the search, we are all so grateful to the teams, knowing they brought comfort to the devastated community, assuring residents that everything possible had been done to find survivors."

Our deepest thanks to the Search Teams for your sacrifice, determination, and dedication to making sure no one was left behind. To all of SDF’s supporters, please know how grateful we are to you for your friendship, and for keeping the teams in your thoughts and prayers over the past week. It has meant the world to us, and to them.