SANTA PAULA (CBSLA) — Man’s best friend is also man’s best hero.
A local group trains the rescue dogs that are saving lives, literally, around the globe.
“Anybody alive in that rubble is what they’re looking for,” says Sonia Heritage, head trainer at the Search Dog Foundation National Training Center in Santa Paula.
As Rachel Kim reports, the group gives a second chance at life and, in turn, they are trained to save lives.
The non-profit group takes dogs from shelters and rescue groups and teaches them to search for people after disasters.
“They’re actually conditioned. These are high-drive, toy driven, intense, OCD for the toy dogs,” says Heritage.
The dogs are taught to sniff out odors coming off a live person. Their reward is the toy. Heritage explains how they’re taught to find the toy inside barrels.
“We have a live person inside one with a toy. And we have toys in another one, food in another one, clothes in another one, but they know every time they stick their nose in that one that has a live person, that toy comes out,” Heritage says.
Frisco got his toy after he found one of the trainers hiding in a manhole.
The newest part of the training grounds at the Search Dog Foundation is designed to recreate any disaster, in any situation. The dogs learn to search through standing buildings, through the rubble of collapsed buildings andalso to make people sure aren’t trapped in cars.
After an intense training, the dogs are ready to be paired with firefighters and first responders. Once they meet, they train together for two weeks before getting national certification with FEMA.
“They’re the only tool that we have that can find an unconscious buried victim. And that is what I would want looking for my loved ones,” Heritage says.
>Teams from the Search Dog Foundation have deployed everywhere – 9/11, Haiti, Japan, Houston, Puerto Rico and Mexico City. There are two teams in Mexico City right now.
“Finding these amazing dogs that everybody else thinks are a pain in the butt, and they drive them crazy, we look at them like diamonds,” Heritage says.