|Riley is more than lucky to have had so many people willing to help him along his path to becoming a Search Dog. Born on October 1, 2007 to a breeder in Northern California who named him, Mojo, this adorable Yellow Lab had been purchased by an elderly couple looking for a quiet family companion.
Unfortunately, a short time after welcoming Mojo into their lives, the couple started facing some medical issues which made it difficult for them to handle a very rowdy little Lab. Although he was only four months old, Mojo already had a tremendous amount of energy and strength. Realizing it was in the puppy's best interest to be placed with someone capable of handling him, the couple surrendered him to the South Bay Purebred Rescue in San Jose, CA.
Soon after arriving at South Bay Purebred Rescue, the adorable then seven-month-old pup was adopted by a family from Central California who renamed him Riley. They felt the dog would be a perfect fit for their family that included two small children. They were so excited and anxious to get him home and make him a part of their family!
Fortunately for Riley, the family was dedicated to trying to make it work. They began to research obedience and training classes in their area and came across Sundowners Kennels in Gilroy, CA, where SDF dogs are trained. While SDF Trainer Kate Davern was working with Riley on his basic obedience skills, she realized he would be a difficult challenge in any home, let alone one with small children.
After putting Riley through the evaluation exercises, Kate thought Riley would have a great future as a Search Dog. Kate contacted the family, and the owners agreed it would be best for Riley to have a job -- because he was not a house pet!
Soon after Riley was admitted to the formal training course, he learned how to climb on rubble, navigate obstacles and bark at a tube where a "victim" was hidden. Kate recalls that Riley "was joyfully insensitive to what he could do to us physically." Thanks to this "exuberance" and constant desire to be doing something, he sailed through training.
On October 15, 2009, Riley finished his basic Search Dog training and was paired with Eric Gray of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The team worked extremely hard and after just seven months of training together, they passed their FEMA Certification on May 15, 2010 in Boston, MA.
Eric and Riley 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, Eric and Riley travel to Los Angeles at least twice a week for search training with the Los Angeles canine training groups.
On August 24, 2010, Eric and Riley responded to their first disaster along with SDF Search Team Linda Tacconelli and Joe. A semi-truck loaded with gravel had launched off the road and into a Santa Barbara home. Riley quickly searched the area and determined that there were no survivors in the wreckage.
On March 11, 2011, Eric and Riley were one of the six SDF-trained Canine Disaster Search Teams deployed to Japan with California Task Force 2. The 72-member Los Angeles based Task Force was mobilized by USAID and sent into the Earthquake-Tsunami disaster zone along with Virginia Task Force 1to comb the wreckage in search of live victims.
After achieving initial FEMA Certification, Disaster Search teams must be re-evaluated once every three years in order to maintain their deployment-ready status. In February of 2013, Eric and Riley passed their evaluation test once again and maintain the highest level of urban disaster standards in the nation. They continue to train intensely with their task force so that should the call come, they are ready to save lives.