July 23, 2013
Misty Volaski, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Ojai-based National Disaster Search Dog Foundation got a big boost in its fundraising efforts this month with a $1.5-million donation from the Wendy P. McCaw Foundation.
“It was a bit of a surprise,” said NDSDF founder Wilma Melville.”They have funded us before, but we didn’t specifically go to them this time (to ask for funding). So that’s why this was such a nice surprise.”
The donation bumped NDSDF’s current fundraising total to more than $15.6 million — a big step closer to its goal of $18.5 million. The funds are being used to construct a massive, one-of-a-kind training facility — a place, according to a recent NDSDF press release, “where rescued dogs are trained to become rescuers, and where America’s search teams will get the advanced training they need for the most challenging disaster deployments.”
With the latest funds, the foundation will be able to complete construction on several buildings and areas within its 127-acre property in Santa Paula’s Wheeler Canyon: the Disaster Training Zone, Disaster Dome, Handlers Lodge, Welcome Center, infrastructure and roads.
Melville is specially excited about the Disaster Dome. “It’s one of our most important buildings,” she said. It will be an environmentally-controlled building and look a lot like a Hollywood movie set, complete with moveable props that can be set up in countless configurations so dogs in training will always have a new challenge.
But the best part of the dome, Melville said, is that it can be completely blacked out, and the weather controlled, so that teams can simulate climates and times of day. “We can have the ‘moon’ go into any phase we want,” she said, “and we can set the temperature, have a breeze, change the humidity. We can make it rain and we can make snow flurries. And we can set the props however we want too.”
Being able to simulate so many different search environments will allow the dogs — and just as importantly, the handlers — will be ready for any type of deployment. Even in the middle of the summertime in Southern California, teams will be able to experience searching for survivors in, for example, the cold darkness of Japan at night after an earthquake. They can also simulate the high humidity and heat of Haiti, or the very wet situations following a hurricane or mudslide.
Past and current search teams have trained wherever they could — construction sites, rubble piles, dumps, firefighter training facilities and even Universal Studios. “But there are few places we can hide survivors (for the dogs to search out),” Melville said. “And we can only bury them a few inches down. That’s just not good enough; that’s not reality. At this place, we can have them at 15 feet deep … that is reality.”
NDSDF will breaking ground this summer on the Canine Pavilion, which will have kennels for up to 40 dogs, as well as classrooms for handler training and ongoing education, staff offices, lodging for dog caregivers, and a veterinary area. The on-site kennels will allow for lots more training time, said Melville. “Right now, the dogs are boarded in a private kennel in Santa Paula,” she said. But even though it’s only about 10 minutes away from the training center, it still shaves of about an hour of every day. The training center kennels will also mean “less stress on them without the daily trips, and there will be fewer dogs around them in the kennels.”
Two other training areas have recently been completed on the property, and are already being used by handlers and search dogs in training. The Wendy P. McCaw Foundation Training Grounds, an 11,200 square-foot area that is shaded so that teams can train all day long in comfort, and the Newman’s Own Foundation Search Team Showgrounds feature 15,300 square feet of room for team demonstrations.
The training center, which Melville says is laid out like a campus and “Is like a little city,” is slated for completion in fall 2014, although that depends on funds raised.
“These disasters, they don’t go away,” Melville said. “Natural disasters and accidents are always going to happen.”
NDSDF teams have trained 144 canine-firefighter search teams and responded to 96 disasters, including the Oklahoma City Bombing, World Trade Center attack, Hurricane Katrina, La Conchita mudslides, L.A. train derailments, the earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, and most recently the tornadoes in Texas and Oklahoma.
Melville said, “In light of our June deployment to the deadly Moore, Okla. tornado, we are humbled and honored by the support of so many donors who believe in our mission of service to our local community, and communities throughout the nation. (We) can now forge ahead to complete the construction phase of the National Training Center and bring new disaster preparedness resources to the country.”
Visit www.searchdogfoundation.org for more information on the NDSDF.