Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Pet Go Bag

June 1st is the first day of hurricane season for 2017. If you live in an area that could be affected by a hurricane (remember, you don’t need to be right on the coast to see the effects of a hurricane arrive at your doorstep!), it's time to take inventory of your emergency supplies. So while you’re checking your spare batteries and bottled water, don’t forget about the four-legged members of your family.

Here are a few basics that you may need if you have to leave home in a hurry and find better shelter:

  1. Two weeks of pet medicine and medical records in a waterproof container
  2. One week of food in a waterproof container
  3. Two leashes, disposable in case of contamination (flood water, etc.)
  4. Muzzle
  5. Collapsible crate
  6. Dawn soap for a bath if your pet gets exposed to flood waters or other potential hazardous materials.

Another consideration for a pet go bag is how to deal with your pet when they are stressed. As may of us know, our pets are dialed in to how we feel, and many pets will become nervous and stressed when we are nervous and stressed. Stress can turn a normally happy and kind pet into one that is withdrawn or even aggressive. But more likely is that a stressed pet will start to have digestive distress.

Be on the lookout for stomach trouble/displacement behaviors like eating grass, especially if you are leaving home post-incident as they could inadvertently eat something that could make them sick.


Anxiety is a recommended topic to discuss with your veterinarian. Some highly anxious pets may need something as significant as a sedative to help them through the experience of a hurricane and the travelling and chaos that could follow. Additional medications to help with stomach troubles are another recommended topic to discuss with your veterinarian. If you can calm down your pet and keep them eating normally that will certainly help yourself and your family remain as level-headed as possible during trying times.

And don’t forget creature comforts. Zapp has bonded with this old teddy bear named “Tubby,” but don’t tell anyone. He’s still trying to maintain his tough search dog image.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Living with a Search Dog

Zap in front of 60 people waiting 
to see a search dog demonstration
The first step in becoming a canine handler is finding the right partner. The second, and often equally difficult step, is figuring out how you guys are going to live together. 

It is not uncommon for young search dogs to make for pretty terrible “pets.” Most handlers screen dogs for characteristics that connect directly to “bad dog” behaviors...high toy drive is great for working a rubble pile, but maybe not so much for when they discover that the pillows on your couch make great toys too. These dogs can make fast work of an “indestructible” Kong, so our furniture doesn’t stand much of a chance.

The vast majority of urban search and rescue canines are required to have a “bark and hold” alert, meaning they will find a victim and bark until the handler comes to reward them...and each of us can remember, not so fondly, when we first taught our dogs to “speak” and the subsequent weeks or months of them barking at us in an attempt to get a reward. Zapp is 3 and ½ years old and still does plenty of “back talk” barking whenever I’m making him do obedience or agility work….or, heaven forbid, I take a short nap on the couch when I should clearly be throwing the ball for him. 

The athletic prowess of these dogs is unmatched by any aside from Military Working Dogs (MWD), and handlers are reminded of this by their canines bouncing on their beds at 4:00 am like children on Christmas morning or making yet another attempt to break out of their crate. The thought “how aren’t you tired yet” is a great one to have about your canine on deployment, but not so much as your shoulder is about to come apart from throwing a tennis ball for 45 straight minutes or trying to get them out of the pool or lake after two hours of swimming.
And the vet bills...oh the vet bills. Like their handlers, our canine partners tend to be risk takers with a high pain tolerance. Broken toe nails, small lacerations, blood spurting from “happy tail” injuries, bitten tongues, and all manner of scrapes and bruises are regular occurrences for search dogs. I know many handlers that have significantly more medical equipment for their canine partners than they do for themselves.

Here’s Zapp post patching up from his local vet. The shirt is to buy me a little bit of time to stop him from scratching his stitches when they start itching.

But if I’m being honest, most of us get the dog we deserve. And if you’re very lucky, as I am, a handler ends up with a dog that can read you and nudge your arm when the stress of a deployment is getting to you. Or they will curl up next to you as you rest your head on a deployment bag during a ten minute break in the field. For many of us, they truly are our partners, our battle buddies, the ones that we spend more time with, even more so than many of our most important human to human relationships. 
  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

An Introduction:

Hello and welcome back to our Search Dog Blog!

Matt & Zapp on a Boat, Episode 1 - MSY.pngThings are going to be looking a bit different around here, and we would like your input on the stories and adventures you would like to learn about here. My name is Matt and my battle buddy is Zapp. Together, we make up a Wilderness Search and Rescue team as well as an Urban Search and Rescue team.

We’ve had many adventures over the years, and we would enjoy sharing some of our stories and the people we have met along the way with you. So send any questions our way.

For our first entry I would like to simply explain who we are and how Zapp and I became a team. Zapp is a four and a half year old Labrador Mix Breed that was found in a local animal shelter. At the time, he was about 9 months old (judging from his teeth) and had no known ownership history. Zapp had been in the shelter for a few months with no interest from potential families because of his high energy.

Zapp Profile, Episode 1 - MSY.pngFortunately, the employees at the shelter were familiar with the characteristics of search dogs and reached out to our wilderness search and rescue team about screening him as a potential candidate for the job. I ran Zapp, then known as “Picasso,” through the screening, and he passed with a score of 100%.

The screening is designed to test a dog’s likelihood to pass a national/international standard field trial in search and rescue. It tests hunt drive, nerve strength and general amiability. We will explore these abilities in later stories.
The ability to confidently climb a 45° is a
requirement for any
qualified urban disaster search canine.


I signed his paperwork at the animal shelter, and he became my $35 search and rescue candidate. We began our training the following day, and we were a certified and deployable wilderness search and rescue team within 9 months, and then one year later we were an urban team as well.

There are tons of stories that we have from adoption to certification, and tons more from there to deployment. And we are just one very small part of any search and rescue operation. We are hoping that you will join us on this journey, and we hope that you can learn all about the world of search and rescue alongside Zapp and I as our careers continue.

🐾 Matt & Zapp

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Not Always About Me

Angie and I went to the warehouse where all of the stuff is kept for Texas Task Force 1, including kennels for the dogs.  That was fine since I thought it would just be a few minutes until we were training at Disaster City.  But no….when she let me out, we walked with everybody on our team, and other dogs, for 2 miles.  Angie carried a heavy pack, and I was bored.  Walking is just not that much fun.

When we returned, I went back in the kennel, and Angie left.  She didn’t come back until many hours later, and it was dark.  Turns out she was at a class called Wide Area Search, which helps her be better at her job.  That is training for her, but not for me.  When she came back, she fed me, took me outside for a short walk, and then lights out.

The next day was the same, but not as long.  And then we went home.  Sometimes I must wait, and remember that it is not always my turn.  Angie needs training too, and it is important for her.  I get to train all the time, and so I should not be upset that sometimes it is her turn. I have a feeling that I will get my turn again very soon!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Crowd of Boy Scouts

Angie and I are not worried about giving presentations.  We have visited schools, camps, Vacation Bible Schools, and even events where people sit at tables eating lunch.  But we went to a Boy Scout camp last week, and there were 300 kids.  That is the most ever!  And there was loud music, and they were making so much noise that even with a microphone, Angie had a hard time getting them to listen.  And they were sitting on the bleachers in a big auditorium, and eating lunch.  And…well, you probably get the picture.

Usually at these events, somebody hides, and I find that person.  But there were too many people this time. Angie was worried that they wouldn’t be able to see and would just take off, trying to watch me.  So I demonstrated my obedience and some agility.  It was not that much fun for me, but all of the Scouts seemed to like it. 

And here was the toughest part.  Since it was the last day of camp, each boy had a balloon to pop.  The person in charge told us that they would wait until we left the building, but that is not what happened.  Imagine the sound of 300 balloons going “pop, pop, pop!”  It was so loud, and I was so happy to load up in the quiet car and head home.

Monday, June 13, 2016

My New Home

No, I didn’t go live with a different family, or run away, or anything like that.  But for one week, Sprinkles’ family went away, and Angie and I stayed at their house.  That is because there are 3 dogs who live there, and 2 of them are kind of old and take medicine.  It was easier to go there than for all of those dogs to come to our house.

Remember that I am the only dog at my house, so it was a big change to be with 3 other dogs.  We all stayed in our kennels at night, and if Angie was gone.  If she was home, then sometimes Sprinkles and I would play in the backyard.  Maybe because Sprinkles lived there and I didn’t, she felt like she could be the boss of me.  She would not share her toy, and would tease me with it. 

I like being the only dog.  When we came back home, I was tired.  It felt quiet, calm, and like the best place to be.  It was nice of Angie to take care of those 3 dogs, but even better when it was all done.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Be Prepared

This is the time of year when weather can get bad, like hurricanes that can come with lots of rain and wind, even flooding and destroying houses.  Angie and Kip are always ready, and have extra food, bottled water, flashlights, and lots of other stuff for our family.  And I know there is always at least a half tank of gas in the car (that is why we stop for gas after every trip to Disaster City).

I am part of our family, and to everybody reading this, if you have dogs or cats (yes, Oscar is also part of the family), even birds, remember that what is best for humans is also best for us.  The most important thing I can say to you is “Do not leave us behind.”  If you evacuate, do not think that we will be OK without you.  If you go, we go. Find out what shelters and hotels allow pets, because not all of them do.  If you decide to travel to a safe place out of town, like a friend’s house, be sure that pets are welcome.  The time to do this is BEFORE anything happens, like right now. Plan ahead.

Put together an emergency kit just for us.  We need food, water, leashes, toys, bowls, our medicine, first aid supplies, and for cats, a litter box.  You know I don’t need that, but Oscar does.  Be sure to have ziplock bags so that our food stays dry…and towels that are throw away. If you have enough food for 10 days, then that should be enough.  Keep copies of our veterinary records, especially our vaccinations and please make sure we are wearing identification tags with our name and phone number. Some of us have microchips under our skin, but it might be a while before we get to a vet if we are lost.

Do not put a cat in a crate with a dog, or put a dog in a crate with another dog, or 2 cats in the same cat carrier. Even though we may all be great friends, when the weather changes, or our humans get upset, we might act differently than normal.  Have a separate kennel for each of us.  That way we will be safe and comfortable.