|Hunter is a bundle of energy who can't wait to get to work every day with his handler Bill Monahan, a Captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
Because Bill and Hunter are located at an Urban Search and Rescue station, one of only two designated in Los Angeles County, they are in a prime position to respond when they are needed. And Hunter's more than ready to show what he can do!
Hunter, a red-and-white Border Collie, was born on a horse farm on New Year's Eve in 2002. Although both his parents were black-and-white Borders, he inherited his coloring from his grandfather, who was also red-and-white. As a puppy, Hunter lived with Patricia Baldwin, who loved him dearly in spite of his tendency to chew anything and everything in sight. Patricia would take Hunter to a dog park to give him additional exercise. When he grew larger, Hunter followed his ancestral instincts and began herding the other dogs at the park, showing them that he was "Chief Canine-in-Charge."
Unfortunately, Patricia had to find a new home for Hunter when he was seven months old. She had learned about Sundowners Kennel in Gilroy from a friend at the dog park and went to check out the facility. She was so impressed by the training provided to the dogs at Sundowners that she decided to donate Hunter to SDF to be trained as a disaster Search Dog.
Since Hunter was only a year old at the time, he went to a prep home for about six months prior to beginning his training. Hunter was placed in the home of Kellee Matthews, an experienced volunteer who has had up to six or seven dogs at a time, including three of her own. Kellee describes Hunter as "an angel" who quickly adapted to his new home. As Director of Animal Care for Guide Dogs of America, Kellee was able to take Hunter to work with her every day and says he made her "look good" because of his highly social nature. "He just loves everybody!" says Kellee. Of the many dogs she has fostered over the years, "Hunter Bear," as she dubbed him, is one she would have gladly kept. However, she has followed Hunter's progress as a Disaster Search Dog and is gratified knowing that he is partnered with a good handler.
Bill grew up in Scotland around horses and dogs and has had a passion for search and rescue work since joining the LA County Fire Department 23 years ago. In 1995, Bill acquired a Black Lab puppy named Max and trained him to become a FEMA Certified Disaster Search Dog. Sadly, at the age of 6, Max was stolen from Bill's home just before the 9/11 disaster. After a period of grieving the loss of Max, Bill approached SDF about being partnered with an SDF-trained dog. On April 12, 2004, Bill received Hunter, and this was the beginning of one of his biggest challenges!
Thankfully, Bill's careful observations during his early training with Hunter led him to a very important discovery about his canine partner -- he realized that unlike most search dogs, Hunter did not seem to feel rewarded by the presentation of a toy and tug. Instead, Hunter responded to the visual stimulus of the toy flying out of the alert tube, similar to a sheep leaving the herd. Bill altered his training method and began using a throw reward rather than a tug. Instant success! Bill also observed that Hunter was highly attentive to all of Bill's movements and noticed even the slightest differences. Bill learned that if he kept all movements the same, Hunter performed "like a machine." If he varied his technique in any way, it threw Hunter off. Once the two came to this understanding, Hunter became a highly focused dog who can't wait to come out of his kennel and do what he's trained to do.
In May of 2006, Bill and Hunter passed their DHS/FEMA Certification test, and were ready to serve should they be called upon in the event of a disaster anywhere in the world. In 2008, Bill and Hunter responded to the devastating Metrolink train crash in Chatsworth, CA, flying in by helicopter to search for survivors.
Nearly two years passed before they would be called to one of the biggest disasters to hit the Western Hemisphere in 200 years: a 7.0 magnitude earthquake in the island nation of Haiti. On January 14, 2010, Bill and Hunter were deployed to Port-au-Prince with Los Angeles County Task Force 2. They searched for 16 days, combing the wreckage in search of victims still alive under acres of concrete and debris. Together with six other Canine Disaster Search Teams trained by the Search Dog Foundation, Bill and Hunter helped bring 12 people to safety.
On March 11, 2011, Bill and Hunter were one of six SDF-trained Canine Disaster Search Teams deployed to Japan with California Task Force 2 in Los Angeles County. The 72-member Task Forcewas mobilized by USAID and sent into the disaster zone along with Virginia Task Force 2 to comb the wreckage in search of live victims.
Bill describes Hunter as one of the best dogs he's ever had for performing demonstrations at schools and civic groups. Hunter is highly obedient when he's performing in public and is great with children. He will lie on his back to have his belly rubbed or will lick ice cream off the faces of kids. Hunter makes friends wherever he goes and is a great public relations tool for the LA County Fire Department and SDF.
Says Bill: "Hunter is an outstanding dog all around. I think he will go beyond just being a good Search Dog and will be one of the great ones!"