Two New Search Teams Have Joined SDF’s Roster
Eric Ingstad & Java, Cynthia Sato & Roxy
Los Angeles City Fire – California Task Force 1
Thanks to you, our supporters nationwide, two new Search Teams have joined SDF’s roster of 74 teams on call to respond to local, national, and international disasters. Their job: to find people buried alive or trapped in the wreckage… to make sure no one is left behind.
Java, a one-year-old Plott Hound mix, was picked up as a stray and discovered by SDF volunteers Laura and Wayne Rathe at Bones Pet Rescue in Covelo, CA. They saw “66 pounds of goofy, happy, and friendly” in this beautiful girl, but the extreme drive and intelligence that came out during her first evaluation were sure signs of a future Search Dog.
Roxy, a beautiful mutt, was surrendered to the Sacramento SPCA by her previous owners because she was too rambunctious – they just couldn’t handler her. After an evaluation by SDF volunteer Andrea Bergquist, she was brought to SDF. “Roxy’s a natural on rubble! She has tons of drive, searches well, and gives great bark alert when she finds the victim,” says trainer Sharon Hanzelka.
As Roxy and Java were sharpening their search skills at the 6-month intensive Canine Training Course in Gilroy, CA, Cynthia and Eric were attending Search Team trainings at rubble piles in and around L.A. They watched veteran SDF teams in action and served as volunteer “victims,” hiding out for hours in makeshift underground “voids” as a succession of Search Dogs caught their scent, followed the trail, and earned the reward: a wild tug-of-war for the ultimate prize, a chewed-up piece of fire hose.
On October 29th, Eric and Cynthia began SDF’s 2-week Handlers Course. The first week took place in Santa Paula, CA, at the site of SDF’s future Training Center. There the rookie handlers worked with veteran Search Dogs Ellie and Comet, practicing basic skills like footwork, whistle work and commands. SDF Program Supervisor Denise Sanders shared this:
“The new handlers arrive on Day #1 full of anticipation. From that day forward, their lives will never be the same. During the daily coursework and hands-on practice, they move from awkward and insecure to smooth and capable in their skills. It’s amazing to watch, as experienced canines show the humans ‘how it’s done.'”
With their basic skills intact, the new Handlers traveled to Gilroy to meet the dogs who would become their partners, and change their lives. SDF Founder Wilma Melville was there the day the handlers were partnered with their dogs:
“The magical moment for both dog and human is when the leash is put in the outstretched palm of the handler. At that instant, canine and handler become one. A bond is made and partnership is born that will turn them into a team trained to save lives.”
It’s all about training now, as the new teams gain the skill level and confidence to pass FEMA Certification and get ready to deploy. They’ll train everyday on obedience, obstacles and direction control, and twice a week work on rubble with SDF’s L.A. teams. Twice a month they’ll meet at the Santa Paula Training Center for training “tune-ups.” Throughout this journey, the new handlers will be nurtured-and challenged-under the wing of veteran handlers.
We all wish Eric and Cynthia well in their work, and thank them for their dedication to the mission and their service to America.
Eric: “When I was paired with Java during the Handler’s Course, it just felt right. I had spent so many months training with my Task Force and watching their dogs at work that I was extremely excited to meet my new canine partner. I get to work with a lot of knowledgeable people at trainings – all experienced, friendly and helpful. It is wonderful to have the support system SDF provides.”
Cynthia: “It was when I crawled in a hole and played ‘victim’ during a training that I realized I could combine my love of dogs with a higher purpose. Roxy is a high energy canine and she’s going to teach me patience. I like the fact that she’s such a quick learner and so fast and agile on the rubble pile. Our training is more about keeping up with her!”
Thank you for being… Part of the Search.
National Disaster Search Dog Foundation
501 East Ojai Avenue, Ojai, CA 93023