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 Stress can turn a normally happy and kind pet into one that is withdrawn or even aggressive.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