Search dogs are worthy recipients of auto writers’ donation

At its first meeting after the Oso mudslide, members of the Northwest Automotive Press Association (NWAPA) decided to make a financial contribution to an Oso mudslide disaster relief agency. The meeting took place nearly a month after the March 22 tragedy.

By that time, most organizations assisting Oso mudslide victims had been inundated with donations of all kinds, and some had publicly announced they didn’t need any more.

So, a NWAPA member with close ties to Guide Dogs for the Blind suggested we make a donation to a local search dog organization in the name of Oso disaster relief. The group agreed, voting unanimously to donate $1,000.

Northwest Disaster Search Dogs, based in Kent, became the chosen recipient.

To get some photos to go with this story, I spent last Saturday morning at Randles Sand and Gravel, in Puyallup, where Northwest Disaster Search Dogs (NDSD) volunteers were conducting rubble training. The property, with its enormous piles of broken concrete and other debris, is ideal for rubble training, and Randles makes it available to NDSD free of charge. (NDSD was also allowed to conduct training at the site of the Seattle Kingdome after its implosion.)

Watching the dogs sit obediently near their NDSD handler while other people hid far away and out of sight in the rubble pile, and seeing the dogs peel out, scale the pile in a flash and then home in on the hiding humans, my heart was nearly breaking with love and admiration for them, for their heroism and dedication. However, NDSD’s Kent Olson told me the dogs are motivated by one thing: getting to play with their favorite toys.

The type of dogs who frantically and obsessively want to play fetch with things like chew toys, tennis balls and sticks are the only ones who have what it takes to become search dogs. In training, their reward isn’t a gold medal or even food treats, but playtime. To them, running off to find the NDSD people who are hiding with their chew toy is play.

Turning a fetch-obsessed dog into a skillful search dog usually takes about 2 to 3 years, Olson said.

All the people at Northwest Disaster Search Dogs are volunteers. They are, unquestionably, heroic and dedicated, deserving of love and admiration.

And I still think the dogs are, too.

If you’d like to make your own donation to Northwest Disaster Search Dogs, or would like more information about the organization, see or call 206-817-0719.

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