Wilma Melville was deployed to the Oklahoma City to help with the bombing in 1995. After the incident, she was convinced that emergency services needed more search dogs for such events. That was when she founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF). The SDF is a nonprofit organization that trains dogs rescued from shelters to become rescuers themselves.
Melville’s idea was that not only would the foundation be able to train dogs for disaster search teams, but they would also be able to save several dogs from being put to sleep in shelters. SDF recruits dogs from shelters and breeds rescue dogs all over the nation. The dogs are given professional training for 8-10 months. After they graduate, the dogs are partnered with firefighters and other responders at no cost to the fire departments. Most of the dogs that are recruited have personalities that are suitable for such jobs.
“What others see as bad behaviors, we see as talent and potential,” says Denise Sanders, SDF’s communications and development officer. She also said that the dogs have a lifetime of care under their program. Even if they are not paired or used in disaster search and rescue, each canine will be taken care of by the foundation. So far there have been 192 rescue dogs that have graduated from the SDF training program.
“Our goal is to make sure our canine-human response teams are ready at all times to be deployed,” Sanders said, “We never know when the call is going to come, but we know it is not a matter of if, but when.”