Dog of the Day
K9 Hero - Comet, the Search and Rescue Dog
by Carie Broecker
The dogs that are chosen for search dog training and a life of service are typically high-energy, agile, athletic dogs with a strong prey drive and an eagerness to please. These dogs often end up being surrendered to shelters because of the very traits search and rescue trainers are looking for.
Nothing demonstrates the dedication of “man’s best friend” more than search and rescue dogs. All around the world there are search and rescue organizations at the national, state, and local levels dedicated to producing teams trained to find people buried alive in the wreckage of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
The Search Dog Foundation (SDF) located in Ojai, CA is the only such organization that recruits rescued dogs from shelters and breed-specific rescue groups, gives them professional training, and then partners them with firefighters and other first responders at no cost to their departments. Dogs from SDF have been deployed to help with mudslides, train wrecks, structural collapses, hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and the 9/11 terrorist attack.
The dogs that are chosen for search and rescue training and a life of service are typically high-energy, agile, athletic dogs with a strong prey drive and an eagerness to please. These dogs often end up being surrendered to shelters because of the very traits search and rescue trainers are looking for. Traits that could be seen as negative in a home setting, such as jumping fences, becoming destructive from boredom, and chasing cats or other animals, become incredible assets once the dog is trained as a search and rescue dog.
Comet, a five-year-old tri-color Border Collie, is active, alert, intelligent, eager to please, and always has the “What’s next?” look on his face. Comet was trained to do search and rescue work. He was matched with his handler Michele Vaughn when he was two years old. Michele is a fire captain for the City of Salinas and an incredible woman who has dedicated her life to service and saving lives. She and Comet trained together intensively for a year before he received his search and rescue dog certification. The training never ends. Even after certification Michele and Comet train together everyday and that will continue until he retires.
Comet and Michele were most recently deployed to Texas when Hurricanes Gustav, Hannah, and Ike made landfall. On August 31, 2008 when Hurricane Gustav was headed for the coast of Texas, FEMA deployed nine task forces to be on the ground after the hurricane hit. Each task force brought four dogs and their handlers. The damage from Gustav was minimal, but right on its heels was Hannah. The teams trained every day while waiting for disaster to strike. Hannah fell apart and did little damage as well. But right away, another hurricane, Ike, had already formed and was headed their way. Hurricane Ike turned out to be the third most destructive hurricane to ever make landfall in the United States, resulting in 195 deaths and $24 billion in damage. The task forces waited seventeen hours for waters to recede and then were the first on the scene, other than the swift water teams that worked in boats. Their job was to identify live human scent, alert, and move on. They witnessed whole neighborhoods that had been destroyed and apartment buildings filled with water. Canvassing neighborhoods, they mostly found the poor, the ill, and the elderly who did not or could not evacuate.
Comet did his job well. His amazing nose and training made it possible for him to walk through an apartment complex and alert Michele to which apartments were occupied. A second dog would confirm the alert and then Michele would radio in the location of the survivors. Administering first aid and physically evacuating people was not part of their duties. Time was of the essence. The dogs had to keep moving to identify live human scent and alert over and over again. The nine task forces (36 dogs and partners) worked long hours for five straight days and helped find 5,000 people that needed to be evacuated. Even with all the technological advances of our modern world, there is no more effective search tool than the nose of a well-trained search and rescue dog.
The Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a nonprofit organization, which relies on the support of individual donors to continue their life saving work. Locally, their work has been supported by numerous Central Coast individuals and organizations. Michele and Comet are proudly sponsored by the Pebble Beach Riding and Trails Association. Click here for more information about SDF.