|As a volunteer for the Search Dog Foundation (SDF), Judy Mize became familiar with the characteristics that make dogs ideally suited for SDF search and rescue operations. Judy shared this information with her daughter, Sarah Clusman, who works for the Longmont Humane Society in Longmont, CO, and in December of 2007 Sarah had her first opportunity to put SDF's 10-step canine evaluation process to work.
Sarah and her staff filmed the evaluation of a big Yellow Lab named Joe, and quickly uploaded the video to YouTube. The video showed Joe repeatedly jumping headfirst into snow-covered hedges, disappearing for moments, only to reappear with a toy in his mouth. Despite the bitter cold of the Colorado winter, Joe was overjoyed by finding his toy and remained focused even in the midst of numerous distractions. The trainers were soon quickly convinced that Joe was destined to be a Search Dog.
A few days later, former SDF Canine Manager Karen Klingberg flew to Denver and picked up Joe, who occupied a passenger seat on the flight home. Once at SDF's training center -- Sundowners Kennel -- in Gilroy, CA, words like "awesome" and "wonderful" were noted on his report card. His search skills were very strong, and so was Joe. He could pull a full-sized firefighter out of a hole when tugging on his toy. His abilities never weakened and his performance kept getting stronger week by week.
In July of 2008, after six months of training, Joe graduated from Search Dog training and was paired with Linda Tacconelli, a civilian handler from Santa Barbara, CA. The two continue to train intensively to maintain the very specific, high level skill set needed for disaster search. In addition to their regular daily training on obedience and obstacles, Linda and Joe travel to Los Angeles at least twice a week for search training with the Los Angeles Search Dog training groups. In September of 2009, Linda and Joe flew to Virginia to take the FEMA Certification test. They passed with flying colors! This great achievement means the pair can now be deployed to a disaster at any time.
In March of 2010, Linda and Joe were activated for their first emergency -- the massive flooding in Los Angeles -- but ultimately they did not deploy. At the same time, many of Linda and Joe's training partners were deployed to the devastation following the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on the island nation of Haiti, where they helped bring 12 people to safety. Linda and Joe were again activated -- this time for the Chile Earthquake -- as part of Los Angeles Task Force 2, but again they did not deploy.
On August 24, 2010, Linda and Joe were activated -- along with SDF Search Team Eric Gray and Riley -- for their third disaster response. A semi-truck loaded with gravel had crashed into the home of a Santa Barbara family. Riley quickly searched the area and determined that there were no survivors in the wreckage.
On March 11, 2011, Linda and Joe deployed to the aftermath of the Japan Earthquake and Tsunami with California Task Force 2, as one of the six Canine Disaster Search Teams trained by the Search Dog Foundation. The 72-member Los Angeles County Task Force had been mobilized by USAID and sent into the disaster zone along with Virginia Task Force 1to comb the wreckage in search of live victims.
SDF volunteer Judy Mize is now Joe's Guardian and one of his biggest fans. "It thrills me to no end that this dog was found at a Humane Society, where he was probably not adoptable because of his extremely outgoing personality. Now he has the chance to save someone's life," shares Judy. "He is just awesome and I am so glad to have been a part of his story!"
Sarah Clusman: "When Joe was with us at Longmont Humane Society, he was a favorite for staff and volunteers! Everyone had a blast taking him into our play yard along with a prized tennis ball! Joe would jump, leap and race to catch that ball -- he even tried to climb a pine tree to get it! When I first tested Joe as a possible SDF candidate, I was thrilled at the possibilities in store for him. To know that he is now FEMA Certified... I can't tell you the pride that I feel for that incredible accomplishment. He and his very worthy handler Linda seem to be made for each other. I know the two of them will bring much good to many families, and our hearts remain with them both. Many thanks to SDF for the valuable work that you do!"