Friday, September 2, 2011

Shelter Dogs Become Search-and-Rescue Heroes

Shelter dogs make wonderful companions, as millions of people have already discovered (and more, I hope, soon will). But canines with certain skills, intelligence, and temperaments can take on roles that some might find surprising. Dogs from the humane society where I work have gone on to excel in agility competitions, assist arson investigators by sniffing out accelerants, and participate in animal-assisted therapy.

Today I read a wonderful story on CNN.com called "To the Rescue--Finding a Purpose for Rejected Shelter Dogs." An organization called the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, created by Wilma Melville in 1996, trains dogs-and-handler pairs to become search-and-rescue teams that will save lives after a disaster. The group has trained 131 teams who have been deployed to Japan (after this year's earthquake), Joplin, Missouri (after the deadly tornado there), and other areas coping with disasters.

My favorite part of the story is the fact that 90 percent of the dogs come from shelters. In the video interview of Melville, she says, "We like to use shelter dogs; it's a humane thing to do."

Here's some information about one of the dogs, Riley:
Eric Gray's dog, Riley, was a former shelter dog rejected by two foster homes because he was deemed too hyper to be a pet. But his search-and-rescue training "gave him a purpose," Gray said, adding that Riley has become an important partner in his efforts as a firefighter.
"(Riley) was able to focus the incessant drive ... that he had, and (he was given) an opportunity to really blossom as a dog rather than just being handed from home to home," Gray said. The two recently helped with search-and-rescue efforts in Haiti and Japan. 
You can donate to Melville's organization on their website.

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