Ventura County is home to the largest facility in the United States for training search and rescue dogs.

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization based in Santa Paula. 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.

rescuedogsPeople all over the world saw the disaster teams’ work firsthand in live news reports of the recent Montecito mudslide. Eighteen disaster teams (dogs and their handlers) worked feverishly to locate people trapped by mud and debris. The teams brought back lessons and experiences that will be extremely useful in future deployments. Lessons learned will be incorporated into the program so that everyone is trained and ready to go with the latest findings when the next disaster occurs.


But something else was going on while the 18 teams were working in Montecito.

On December 4 when the Thomas Fire broke out, SDF staff quickly realized that their beautiful new training facility was in the path of the flames. As Denise Sanders, communications and development officer of SDF put it, “We were used to working the disaster, not being part of it.”