The Petco Foundation Honors Santa Paula Based Animal Rescue Non-Profit

Wilma Melville Founder of SDF

(San Diego, Ca) Santa Paula based non-profit National Disaster Search Dog Foundation earned national recognition for its work to provide human rescue dogs for natural disasters both domestically and abroad.

The Petco Foundation gathered more than 450 animal-loving guests at this year’s “Celebration of Love” Lifesaving Awards, which recognized seven organizations and individuals from across the country for their dedication, determination and actions to create lifesaving impact for pets in need.

“The Petco Foundation’s Lifesaving Awards are a way to celebrate and recognize the incredible, lifesaving work that takes place across the country,” said Susanne Kogut, president of the Petco Foundation. “The individuals and organizations honored this year are changing the landscape of animal welfare and setting an example for others. We’re grateful for all they do to save lives and are thrilled to bring their work into the spotlight.”

Helping Heroes Award presented by Blue Buffalo to National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

National Disaster Search Dog Foundation is a Santa Paula, Calif.-based non-profit that strengthens disaster response by rescuing and recruiting shelter dogs and training them to work with first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.

Founded in 1996, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Santa Paula, California. Their mission is to strengthen disaster response in America by rescuing and recruiting dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.

The organization has partnered with celebrity chef and talk show host, Rachel Ray, for the The Rachael Ray Rescue Brigade —a special collaboration supporting efforts to give homeless dogs a second chance as Search Dogs.

Canines trained by the group helped in recent disasters such as the  bridge collapse at the University of Miami, the California mudslides just this past year, and the Poughkeepsie, NY building collapse just over a week ago.

Huck-Tanker-Rugby-Riley-Pearl NSF
NDSDF canines Huck, Tanker, Rugby, Riley, Pearl

The organization’s founder is Wilma Melville, a retired physical education instructor and grandmother of six. Wilma was one of the FEMA-Certified Canine Search Specialists deployed to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Convinced that America needed more highly trained teams to respond to disasters, she founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to address this gap in the national disaster response network. She partnered with renowned dog trainer Pluis Davern, and together they created a new methodology for training Search Dogs. Still active within the Foundation, Wilma serves on the Board of Directors and is involved with the planning of the National Training Center. When time permits, Wilma enjoys piloting her experimental airplane, an RV7A, based at her hangar at Santa Paula Airport.

In 1995, there were only 15 Advanced Certified disaster search dog/handler teams in the entire U.S.  Today, there are over 250.

To find suitable canines, SDF’s regional canine recruiters comb animal shelters and rescues across the country looking for dogs (primarily Labs, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, and mixes of those breeds) that possess the exceptional characteristics required in a search dog: intense drive, athleticism, energy and focus. In many cases these exact qualities make them unsuitable as family pets, but perfect candidates for search and rescue work.

“Recruiting rescued dogs has been and always will be fundamental to our program,” explains Melville. In recent times, however, there has been a severe shortage of shelter dogs in the US that have the unique set of characteristics SDF seeks. This is due to successful adoption programs, micro-chipping and spay/neuter initiatives that have decreased the number of homeless dogs in the US. Additionally, a rising number of government and service dog agencies have discovered the vital need for similar canines in their programs, creating competition for these exceptional candidates. SDF’s ability to raise the bar for what a Search Dog needs to be has also made it more challenging to find these dogs at a shelter or with a breed rescue group.

Dawson searching in Haiti
Dawson searching in Haiti

Petco’s annual gala was hosted in San Diego with Daymond John as its host. The Fubu founder and Shark Tank celebrity was also co-chair for the event.

According to the website, “At the Petco Foundation, we believe that every animal deserves to live its best life. Since 1999, we’ve invested more than $200 million in lifesaving animal welfare work to make that happen. With our more than 4,000 animal welfare partners, we inspire and empower communities to make a difference by investing in adoption and medical care programs, spay and neuter services, pet cancer research, service and therapy animals, and numerous other lifesaving initiatives. Through our Think Adoption First program, we partner with Petco stores and animal welfare organizations across the country to increase pet adoptions. So far, we’ve helped more than 5.5 million pets find their new loving families, and we’re just getting started.”

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