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East Bay search-and-rescue organization holds pet fundraiser

May 02, 2012

Silicon Valley Mercury News

On Saturday Bay Area residents will have an opportunity to lend their support to the California Rescue Dog Association, an all-volunteer nonprofit whose trained search-and-rescue dogs and their handlers help locate missing people. On this day, Pet Food Express stores will host a pet wash fundraiser, allowing participants to thank this worthy organization and, at the same time, walk away with a nice, clean dog.

As the largest K-9 search-and-rescue organization in the United States, CARDA search dogs and their handlers are available at no cost, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to assist in major disasters and the day-to-day work of finding a missing child, an overdue hiker or a wandering Alzheimer patient.

In a typical year CARDA teams assist in more than 300 searches and provide more than 7,000 hours of volunteer service. Currently, 116 teams are certified in California for one or a combination of search and rescue involving trailing, area search, cadaver, water, avalanche and disaster situations. The North-East Bay team has 14 member teams in Contra Costa County from Antioch, Bay Point, Brentwood, Concord, Pittsburg and Walnut Creek.

Kathryn Stewart of Walnut Creek joined the North-East Bay team with her German Sheppard Max wanting to do something for other people. It took two years of intense training for Max to certify in wilderness area and cadaver searching. That training continues on an ongoing basis at
least twice a week for several hours and sometimes more.

"It's really a big time commitment but Max really likes it," Stewart said. "We've done 14 missions and Max had a find on his second."

The combination of handler and dog is an important one in search and rescue. The endeavor seems to attract two types of people: those who come out of the rescue world, such as police, medical or fire, and trainers who love to spent time with their dogs. As for the dogs themselves, it's more their temperament that's important, rather than a specific breed.

"The dog has to have enough drive and strong nerves because they're asked to do a lot; they have to think and be obedient at the same time," Stewart said. "You have to develop a really strong relationship with your dog."

Mitzi and Paul Dugan of Antioch are team members with Jada and Harley, their Labrador retrievers. Both dogs are certified in wilderness area and cadaver searching and their involvement in CARDA benefits all four team members.

"The dogs love what they do and it's very positive training for them," Mitzi Dugan said. "All the dogs love it and you can tell how much everyone loves their dog. It's been a very good experience for us."

Not only do CARDA members put in thousands of hours a year, they also incur all costs surrounding their volunteer work, including mileage, equipment, dog expenses and approximately half of CARDA's organizational expenses. Having Pet Food Express host Saturday's fundraiser will be a huge help toward CARDA's emergency vet fund that covers any dog injuries during a search.

Pet Food Express will donate all the proceeds from pet wash tokens to CARDA and will also be accepting cash donations during the weekend. Search dogs and their handlers will be present at all stores to greet and meet their supporters.

Besides fundraising, Saturday will be a day to put a face on the search-and-rescue community, one that is working for the people of East County and California. "We'd like people to know that we are your neighbors," Stewart said. "Coming into Pet Food Express is a great way to show your support so that we can continue to be available if one of your loved ones gets lost."

By Marta Yamamoto

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