From Rescued To Rescuer: Foundation Turns Shelter Dogs Into First Responders

April 15, 2018

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a nonprofit organization that trains dogs rescued from shelters to become rescuers themselves.

rescued dogs now rescue
Credit: National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

SDF was founded in 1996 by retired New Jersey schoolteacher, Wilma Melville, after she and her search dog were deployed to the Oklahoma City bombing site in 1995. Convinced that America needed more search dogs to meet emergency demands, Melville came up with the win-win idea for SDF: Not only would they create more canine disaster search teams, but shelter dogs would be rescued from an uncertain fate.

To create these search teams, SDF recruits rescued dogs from shelters and breed rescue groups across the country. The dogs are given professional training at SDF's National Training Center located in Santa Paula, California, for 8-10 months.

After they graduate, the dogs are partnered with firefighters and other first responders at no cost to their departments.

rescued dogs become rescuers
Credit: National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

Most of the dogs recruited are unlikely to be adopted because of their animated personalities.

"What others see as bad behaviors, we see as talent and potential," says Denise Sanders, SDF’s communications and development officer.

They also ensure lifetime care for every dog in their program. "Once rescued, these dogs will never need to be rescued again."

So far, 192 rescued canines have graduated from SDF's training program since its inception.

"Our goal is to make sure our canine-human response teams are ready at all times to be deployed," says Sanders. "We never know when the call is going to come, but we know it is not a matter of if, but when."

Learn more about SDF on their official website.

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