Rescued dogs rescuing people

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About 10,000 dogs are put down each and every day. Family pets, abandoned dogs, unwanted puppies that never had a chance to show us who they really are. Now, one woman is rescuing these dogs in hopes they will return the favor and rescue people.

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was founded by Wilma Melville after she and her dog Murray were called to help search the rubble after the Oklahoma City bombing. At that time, there were only 15 search teams in the entire nation. She focused her energy on building more teams, and she started by rescuing dogs in shelters.

"These dogs have been tossed onto the trash heap," said Wilma.

Ace, a yellow lab, was abandoned, tied to a railroad track and sprayed with mace. He was less than a day away from being euthanized. Jester's ability to scale a seven-foot fence with ease ended him up in a shelter and on the euthanasia list. It's these rescued dogs that are now rescuing people.

"They are superbly-fitted to become disaster search dogs," Wilma said.

Wilma looks for dogs that are 18 months old or younger and healthy. They have to be bold and driven.

"It means a dog that must have a job," Wilma said.

Today, the foundation has 75 certified rescue teams. They were on site at the World Trade Center and in Haiti after the massive quake hit in 2010.

Wilma's next goal: to build a $14.5 million dollar training facility in California for rescue teams across the country. To date, she's raised almost $12 million.

The foundation does all this with a staff of 10 people and seven board of directors. Wilma does all of her work as a volunteer just like her rescue teams. Training for each team is a lifelong commitment. It takes eight months to become certified.

Additional information on the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation was founded in 1996 by Wilma Melville after she and her dog, named Murphy, went with FEMA to rescue victims from the rubble of the 1995 Oklahoma City terrorist bombing. Afterwards, Melville decided there were too few FEMA-certified rescue teams and set to devise a way to train rescue dogs more, train them faster, and do it with less cost. That is how the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation began.

The foundation uses dogs rescued from abuse or abandonment and gives them a job to do. The dogs must pass screening and testing criteria before they are selected, and they are then professionally trained for six months to be rescue dogs. After all this, the dog is then paired with a handler. 

All of the trained rescue dogs from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation are paired with a firefighter or other first responders, boosting the capability of the team to help victims of disasters. The dogs are also paired with firefighters at no cost to the fire station.

The foundation is based in Ojai, California, but there are now 72 SDF-trained search teams throughout California, Florida, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah. The SDF disaster teams have helped in the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina, and more recently, the Japanese earthquake and tsunami as well as many other disasters and emergencies. Also, 85 percent of the dogs trained to be search dogs became certified, up from 15 percent before SDF introduced its program.

For those dogs that went through the training but did not become certified, there is the Lifetime Care Program. Through this, a new home is found for the dog, which becomes either a family pet or a working dog.  (Source:

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