|In February of 2009, while they were in Las Vegas, NV, Search Dog Foundation (SDF) trainers Sharon Hanzelka and Kate Davern had some extra time on their hands. They decided to visit the local animal shelters in the hopes they would find some Search Dog candidates.
One of the first places they visited was The Animal Foundation (formerly Leid Animal Shelter). It is one of the largest shelters in the area, and they were surprised to see there were almost 1,000 dogs being housed there. Due to the sheer number of dogs at the facility, they decided to split up and "walk the aisles" in search of candidates. With toys in hand, they spent a few hours walking up and down each row of cages in hopes that maybe one of the dogs would come forward and show some interest in their toy.
When they were through almost every run, it just seemed it was not going to happen. Then Kate walked up on a Black Labrador mix. Initially the dog stayed at the back of his run, but when Kate started to move the toy, the Lab came to the front with ears and tail up, wanting to see what she had. With the help of The Animal Foundation staff, Kate and Sharon took the Lab--named Sonic--out to the yard and ran him through some exercises, testing his drive and focus for the toy.
After a few quick tests, it looked like they had found a winner! That was the easy part. Since they had flown to Vegas, they were in no way prepared to take the dog back home to California. They were scheduled to leave the next day, and the shelter would not release Sonic for at least a few more days until he had been neutered. Sharon and Kate called back to SDF for help solving their dilemma.
SDF Executive Director Debra Tosch was once an SDF Handler and has made connections with fellow Disaster Search Dog Handlers all over the nation. She called in a favor to Nevada Task Force 1 Handler Bryan Morgan and within moments Bryan and his wife Sarah offered to help out with Sonic's transportation to SDF's training kennel.
The next day, while Kate and Sharon were on a plane headed back to the training facility at Sundowners Kennels in Gilroy, CA, Sonic was a few days away from being taken to California himself. Sarah and Bryan drove Sonic all the way from Las Vegas to SDF's prep kennel in Lancaster, CA on their way to visit Sarah's sister, SDF Handler Su Vodrazka. Sonic graduated from basic training quickly and flew through his formal Search Dog training in Gilroy.
In January of 2010, Sonic was paired with Dallas, TX Handler Laurel Pitman, a Captain with Dallas Fire-Rescue. Laurel had trained diligently with Texas Task Force 2 and the other Dallas Handlers, and was excited to meet the challenge and have new adventures with Sonic.
Sonic and Laurel passed their State Urban Search and Rescue (SUSAR) Type II Certification test in Tulsa, OK in December of 2010. A short time later, in June of 2011, Laurel and Sonic achieved their SUSAR Type I Certification in Oklahoma City, OK, making them eligible to deploy to disasters anywhere in the state of Texas.
The team put their Certification and years of training to good use when they responded with Texas Task Force 2 and teammates Keri Grant and Search Dog Tucker to the tornado ravaged community of Granbury, TX on May 15, 2013. Laurel and Sonic assisted in the search of over 130 homes left devastated in the tornado's path.
We know that Sonic and Laurel, always ready to respond to disasters at a moment's notice, will have a very successful career together!