We are all grateful and gratified that our Search Teams are safely home after their 14-day deployment to earthquake- stricken Haiti. Search Dog Foundation Founder, Wilma Melville attended the homecoming event for the L.A. County teams and shared her thoughts with us: When my phone rang on the afternoon of January 14, the voice on the other end was excited and filled with urgency: “Our handlers have been activated for deployment to Haiti!”To me, this meant that our Search Teams—who had trained endless hours, for years and years,over countless miles of rubble—would soon be put to the test.
From that very first hour I followed the rescue efforts on the TV news with the rest of America, and we received daily accounts from our handlers via satellite and cell phone. I spoke with many SDF supporters to share the news, and called all the Guardians and Sponsors of the dogs deployed to Haiti to keep them up to date. Two days into the deployment, my heart must have heard the words before my ears did: “Canines from the Los Angeles County Task Force have located three girls…alive!”Alone at the time, all I could do was march around the room, waving my arms and shouting, “There—I knew they could do it!”
But it wasn’t until the teams’ homecoming late on the night of January 28 that the emotional impact of what these dogs and handlers had accomplished truly found its way into my heart. It took two buses to carry the 72 members of the Task Force from the L.A. airport to the rendezvous point in Pacoima. Among them were “our guys”—the Canine Search Specialists and their amazing canine partners. Tears welled up in my eyes when the voice on the loudspeaker said, “The buses are ten minutes out.”The crowd of 300 family and friends became more excited, and soon the buses rolled in. Cries of happiness rang out as the blue-uniformed Task Force exited the buses and family members hugged and kissed their re-turning heroes.
During the speeches that followed, I started thinking back to the tiny beginning of the Search Dog Foundation when my dog Murphy and I came back from our deployment to the Oklahoma City bombing. At that time there were only 15 Canine Search Teams in the U.S.—not nearly enough to adequately respond to disasters. I knew this had to change, and I started working with expert canine trainer Pluis Davern to create more teams for the country by partnering rescued dogs with firefighters. That was in 1995…
As news crews interviewed the handlers, and as families hugged and cried together, I thought: Here we are today, after all the years of hard work. Ten lives have been saved by the combined effort of dogs and humans. Our rescued dogs have become rescuers. Our handlers are true American heroes. And the nation is better for the work that was done in Haiti. As I write this, the handlers are collecting the knowledge gained from the deployment to share with all of America’s Search Teams. Disaster response will be stronger because the teams were there, because they said “Yes” to years of training and sacrifice. “Yes” to the call to action.