IRVINE, Calif. – Over the past 22 years, the canine alumni of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) have responded to 187 disasters, including Hurricanes Katrina, Harvey and Irma, and the Montecito mudslides. Before being deployed to real-life emergencies, these rescued shelter dogs rigorously train at the Foundation’s National Training Center—a specially constructed, 125 acre campus, featuring collapsed buildings, systematically placed vehicles and furniture, and an intricate scent system to challenge the dogs.
To graduate from the SDF program, the dogs must undertake both cardio and strength training, and complete various live human simulation courses. Only approximately 60% of dogs who enter the program receive their search-and-rescue certification. Non-graduates are placed in a fur-ever home.
Dr. Silvia Pryor, a veterinary ophthalmologist at BluePearl specialty and emergency hospital, Irvine, Ca., and her team visited the Santa Paula-based training facility during National Service Animal Eye Exam Month (May) to give current participants and returning graduates complimentary eye examinations.
“The Search Dog Foundation is so grateful to Dr. Pryor for using her expertise in the field of canine ophthalmology to ensure that our search dogs in training receive the utmost healthcare we can provide,” said Tracy Darling, Director of Canine Operations at SDF. “Every candidate that enters our program is medically evaluated and eye health is an important component of a dog’s overall well-being. Without this important piece of their medical support, we would not be providing the level of care that these incredible canines deserve.”
Thirteen graduates of the program worked on the World Trade Center site following the 2001 attacks, as well as searched for disaster victims in Nepal, Haiti, and Japan. The dogs rely heavily on their visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile senses to guide them during training and on search-and-rescue missions. Dr. Pryor hopes to help these canine heroes stay in top shape, ophthalmically, so they can continue to save lives around the world.
“Dogs have given me so much, both in my personal and professional life, so being able to give back to these animals is incredibly rewarding,” said Dr. Pryor. “And to know that these dogs may have saved a life or will save a life one day, is something that motivates me to do more as a veterinary ophthalmologist,” Dr. Pryor noted. “I hope that by screening for and addressing ophthalmic issues early on, these dogs can have a high quality of life and work well into the future—because they deserve it.”
Dr. Pryor plans to give the canine heroes complimentary screenings at the Foundation’s National Training Center every four to six months. To learn more about the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation program, please visit https://searchdogfoundation.org/.