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Founded in 1996, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Santa Paula, California. Our mission is to strengthen disaster response in America by recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.
We offer the professionally trained canines and an ongoing training program at no cost to fire departments. And we ensure lifetime care for every dog in our program: once rescued, these dogs never need to be rescued again. There are currently 65 SDF-trained Search Teams located in Baja California, California, Florida, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Thanks to Mutual Aid Agreements between counties, cities and states, these precious, life-saving resources can be shared regionally and nationally to make sure that when disaster strikes, no one is left behind.
From Rescued to Rescuer
SDF recruits dogs from across the country that are rescued from abuse or abandonment. Typically these dogs demonstrate high energy, tenacity and boldness, making them ideal for search and rescue, but unsuitable for a family pet. After passing stringent screening and testing criteria, the dogs are then trained to harness that high energy, drive and tenacity into life-saving skills.
When the dogs are ready (and not before), they receive eight to ten months of professional training before being teamed with a handler. Since the dog comes to the handler completely trained, the time it takes for the handler/dog search team to attain FEMA Advanced Certification is significantly reduced. A process that often took two or more years now takes 11 to 14 months.
SDF’s extensive pre-screening of canine candidates and rigorous training have produced a winning combination. Before SDF introduced its program, only 15% of the dogs that trained to be search dogs became certified. SDF boosted this to 85%.
Firefighters: A Search Dog’s Best Friend
SDF chooses the best possible partners for our dogs: firefighters and other first-responders. Why? Because these are the men and women professionally trained to handle the chaos, danger and trauma associated with disaster situations. Also, they know that a skilled search dog is the most valuable tool in their search arsenal, and have the commitment to keep that tool honed.
Ongoing Support to Handlers
SDF stays in close touch with the handlers long after they are partnered with an SDF search dog, providing ongoing training up to and beyond Advanced Certification.
Lifetime Care Commitment
SDF makes a Lifetime Care Commitment to each dog: once rescued, it will never need to be rescued again. If a dog is accepted by SDF but does not complete the training program, or if it cannot remain with its handler for any reason, it is placed in a loving Lifetime Care home.
No Cost to Fire Departments
It costs SDF $20,000 to recruit, care for, and train each dog, partner it with a firefighter-handler, and provide ongoing training to the team. SDF provides these dogs at no cost to fire departments and other disaster response agencies.
No Government Funding
SDF is a small, efficiently run not-for-profit agency with no government funding. We rely on our supporters to help rescue these dogs and turn them into rescuers.