Don’t judge a book by it’s cover, because sometimes things aren’t what they seem. This saying couldn’t be more true for Rocket, a year-old Border Collie mix with black and white fur. In 2012, Rocket was brought to the Sacramento SPCA. The pup displayed energetic and obsessive behavior, and that led shelter officials to deem him unsuitable for adoption. Rocket’s name was put on the euthanasia list.
Read also: “Testing Shelter Dogs’ Behaviors“
But fortunately for Rocket, someone was looking for the exact traits that put him on that list. Denise Sanders works with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF), and said “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” in an article from SFGate. Rocket’s energetic and obsessive behaviors are just the qualities that make a great search-and-rescue dog. On the one hand, high-energy is needed for long search-and-rescue missions, and dogs with the right stamina can keep up with the strenuous requirements. And Rocket’s obsessive behavior might make him difficult to adopt, but in search-and-rescue, his attachment to certain toys is what gets him into the water. According to Sanders, “A normal dog wouldn’t do that for a toy, but this is close to obsessive,” she said. Rocket leaps into floodwaters and can get closer to people that need to be rescued.
Shelter dogs that are used for search-and-rescue missions undergo some serious training to prepare them for these situations. Rocket went through a full eight months of intense training after he was adopted from the shelter. He was then paired with Mike Stornetta, who is a firefighter with the Windsor Fire District. Stornetta and Rocket trained together daily during the eight months, and Sanders even said “They’re together probably more than Mike is with his family.” After their successful completion of training, Stornetta and Rocket earned their Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certification in 2015. They eventually were deployed with a FEMA task force based in Oakland.
Soon after they were deployed, they were sent to Texas to aid first responders. They went with 13 other SDF teams to help find victims who may be trapped under debris or unable to respond.
The SDF was founded over 20 years ago by Wilma Melville. Melville thought there was a desperate need to improve how the US responds to natural disasters. The SDF in 1995 had only 15 search teams. Today, it has completed more than 160 deployments, helping in almost every major crisis since it’s inception.
Marc Valentine of the Montebello Fire Department has been working with SDF for 17 years and is now training with his third dog. He’s currently serving as as a task force coordinator for Hurricane Harvey. In an article from KTLA 5,he says, “It’s incredible what these dogs can do with their nose — to be able to find the scent of a human who’s buried five stories down, and to stay on it and keep barking, it’s incredible.”
It’s just another way that dogs are really here for us. We love hearing and sharing heartwarming stories like this. Got your own? Let us know in the comments below! And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to get great news like this delivered right to your inbox.