Two National Disaster Search Dog Foundation Teams out of Florida have been placed on standby as a result of Hurricane Isaac. Julie Padelford-Jansen and her dog Lilly-Belle, based out of Miami, and Marshia Hall and her dogs Lilah and Trapper, out of Tampa.
Marshia and Trapper were featured in the summer, 2011 issue of The New Barker. The article appears below. More photos, taken by Anna Cooke, may be found on The New Barker facebook page.
The deadly 9.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Japan in early 2011 grabbed our attention and wouldn’t let go. The devastation and loss, unfathomable to us in a land that was on the other side of the world. And then the devastation hit closer to home in Joplin, Missouri with the deadly tornado just weeks later. Through it all, The New Barker was receiving daily updates from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, based in Ojai, California with 76 SDF Search teams stationed across the United States. On call 24/7, search teams were deployed during both disasters. The updates were posted on The New Barker Facebook page, generating the most response to date from anything ever posted there. We recently had the good fortune to meet up with one SDF team out of Tampa.
Marshia Hall and Trapper. The dogs who are certified by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation and their humans are incredibly dedicated to their work. But even more incredible is the fact that many of these dogs were once cast-offs – dogs no one else wanted, many found in shelters across the country. SDF’s Lead Trainer, Pluis Davern said this of the teams deployed to Joplin in May, “Watching these once cast-off dogs that with training have become life-saving tools fills me with unmitigated pride and a deep (sense) of humility for this species that can and does do so much for humankind.”
In Trapper’s case, he flunked out of training to become a guide dog through Guide Dogs of America in Sylmar, California. He is an excitable boy, which proved detrimental to completing his full training as a guide dog. He needed some kind of work more fitting to his personality, and SDF looks for dogs with the non- stop drive and personality that Trapper had. Guide dog training requires dogs not to bark, to walk around obstacles and not to climb on anything – the very skills needed to become an SDF dog. Marshia, who is an Engineer Paramedic with the Temple Terrace Fire Department, was paired with Trapper in July 2004. During their first week of training together Marshia witnessed firsthand the dog’s high energy and drive, and that uncanny Labrador Retriever personality. Every night, after returning to their motel room from training, Trapper, a 70 pound dog, would head for the bathtub and stared at Marshia. “I got the feeling he was just waiting for me to turn on the water so he could jump in to play,” said Marshia. Trapper’s puppy raisers had a swimming pool, so he grew up as a pool puppy. One of their first visits to a Florida beach demonstrated Trapper’s other drive: toys. As soon as they arrived at the beach, Trapper spotted a buoy about 75 yards out in the water. Thinking it was a toy, he intently swam for it. “I had to bring him back three times. The final time he actually got to the buoy and had brought it back a good distance towards shore. I had to wrestle it from his jaws. He was having a blast. I was exhausted,” said Marshia, laughing as she recalled the incident.
Trapper’s first deployment was Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Deployed to Mississippi as part of the Central Florida Task Fource 4, Trapper’s job was to search residential subdivisions in Pascagoula, Gautier and Biloxi. Marshia described what the areas looked like when they arrived on the scene. “It looked as if a huge explosion had gone off. A cross between a landfill and a lumber mill. Just a river of debris. You couldn’t tell where one house began and another ended. Toys, including pet toys, were scattered everywhere. And even though Trapper is toy-driven, he never lost his focus or became distracted. His job was to find people, alive but trapped in the debris.” They worked 12 hour shifts going into homes and cars that were partially collapsed. Trapper either walked on top of the debris or went directly inside, trying to pick up a scent of life. Search Dog Foundation training teaches the dogs the ability and agility to maneuver over extremely difficult terrain, including unstable, slippery surfaces. The dogs are able to penetrate debris and small spaces more quickly than any human can. The dogs are also trained not to touch any water or food they find at a search site in case of contamination. Because the dogs are so focused while they’re working, their handlers keep a close eye out for injury, overheating or thirst.
December 6, 2007 Search and Rescue teams in Florida were called out to assist the Jacksonville Fire Department with a structural collapse. Parts of a six-story parking garage had gone down while under construction. Marshia and Trapper had just returned to Orlando from a Miami search team training session. With their gear still in the car, she, Trapper and her other search dog at the time, Shade headed to Jacksonville to join five other K9 teams. “We assessed the situation and determined what each dog was best suited for: who tunneled best, who wouldn’t jump off the cantilevered floors, whose weight wouldn’t cause a secondary collapse in weakened areas. We divided up into teams, assigned areas to search, and went to work. Before searching, we verified that veterinary treatment was available, should any of the dogs be injured,” explained Marshia. There was rebar every four inches, either broken and protruding, or stretched to its limit, waiting to snap. Walls of cement were dangling over the areas that needed to be searched. Loose four-by-four boards and sheets of plywood were balancing precariously over deep voids. “It was extremely noisy, due to the cranes removing debris and generators operating tools and lights. At one point, they needed to call for “all quiet” when the K-9’s were on the pile in order for us to hear them alert. Everyone stopped and watched hoping to hear one of them bark—an alert that would mean the dogs had found someone alive,” said Marshia. At one point, Marshia said that Trapper, choosing his own route as always, stepped off a ladder onto a piece of plywood. As it slid all the way back down to the bottom of the pile, he rode it like it was the teeter totter he trains on. “He just waited until it stopped, looked up and got back on the ladder and climbed up again,” said Marshia.
Trapper is a search and rescue dog, trained to find people who are alive. For example, if 20 people are missing in the rubble of a disaster site, and three are alive, Trapper will only alert by barking in those three places. If the dogs don’t alert, then cadaver dogs are brought in to search and recover the dead. The searches at the Jacksonville site were held around the clock for two days, with the fire department doing selective breaching and debris removal. Although the dogs showed interest in some areas, they did not alert. This can be discouraging and depressing at times for the dogs. So, in the dark of night, volunteers hid, allowing the dogs to be rewarded for their good work after finding them. “This gave them the incentive to go out and search the following day,” Marshia continued.
Soon, two dogs that search for cadavers were brought up to the area and immediately alerted. Rescue workers carried out the body nearly 60 hours after the building collapsed. Despite the outcome, the teams are always at the ready for the next call.
How Was the Foundation Formed? April 19, 1995 At 9:03 a.m., just after parents dropped their children off at day-care at the Murrah Federal Building in downtown Oklahoma City, the unthinkable happened. A massive bomb inside a rental truck exploded, blowing half of the nine-story building into oblivion. A stunned nation watched as the bodies of men, women, and children were pulled from the rubble for nearly two weeks. When the smoke cleared and the exhausted rescue workers packed up and left, 168 people were dead. Eleven FEMA Task Forces were deployed to the disaster—the largest number used at a single disaster in U.S. history. Among the canine search teams was Wilma Melville, a retired teacher, and Murphy, her Black Lab. Murphy and the other search dogs were able to cover large areas of rubble, saving precious time for firefighters by indicating where victims were buried. In 1995, there were only 15 FEMA Advanced Certified disaster search dog-handler teams in the entire United States. Recognizing the critical need for more advanced teams, Wilma founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation as a way to train teams in a better, more cost-efficient manner.
How You Can Help People across America are becoming “Part of the Search” by helping a dog, once abused and/or abandoned, enter the ranks of the most highly trained search dogs in the nation. Individuals, families, schools and companies are sponsoring an SDF Search Dog. Sponsors get to know the dog and handler; follow their training and progress toward FEMA Certification, and disaster deployments. For more information, contact Celeste at 888.459.4376, extension 101. http://www.SearchDogFoundation.org.