That Something Special: Oakland Animal Shelter Dog Becomes Potential Search and Rescue!
Update 5/13/10: Photo of Lucy training in Red Rock, Nevada
Update 5/8/10: Photo of Lucy starting her training in Nevada
Sometimes a dog just has that special something. And even in a busy animal shelter where the number of “residents” can top a hundred on any given day, that something can still shine through. And for one particular dog named Lucy that something—in this case an unstoppable spirit—has carried this retriever/pit bull mix far from Oakland and into a new life in Las Vegas that has great promise.
As of Saturday, April 30, Lucy the stray became Lucy the potential search and rescue dog. A plane ride to Las Vegas. A home of her own. The possibility of working as a search-and-rescue dog. . . . It’s an exciting beginning—a new chapter—for this unstoppable pup, and a great ending to an eight-month-old story that began when Lucy showed up at the Oakland Animal Shelter in October 2009.
Almost from the moment Lucy arrived at the Oakland Animal Shelter, staff and volunteers could see her intelligence and enthusiasm.
“It’s funny how some animals are suddenly ‘volunteer favorites,’” noted Oakland Animal Shelter Director Megan Webb. “Lucy just struck a chord with everyone she met. She’s so smart; that and her drive—and her spirit—gave us high hopes for a good match for her, whether it was as a search-and-rescue trainee or part of someone’s family.”
Knowing little about Lucy’s past life, shelter staff and volunteers were amazed by how quickly she picked up on things. “She learned t sit in a few minutes!” wrote one volunteer on the online volunteer board. “Does everyone know Lucy can open the kennel gate?” wrote another. “I do now.” And Lucy, everyone also soon learned, was all about the ball. Volunteer mentor Amy Haddix commented, “She’s a great retriever, and she’s also good at sniffing out her favorite toy. We would put her to work in the exercise yard looking for tennis balls that had been lost in the ivy. She would find seven or eight of them in a 15-minute play session. And she loved every minute of it.”
It was Lucy’s passion for the ball, in fact, that led staff and volunteers to think about her potential as a search-and-rescue, or SAR, dog. “We put her through several tests to assess her ability to train as a search-and-rescue dog,” Webb explained, “These tests included throwing a ball, spinning her around in circles to see if she would still go look for the ball, hiding a ball to see if she was able to get it . . .and she passed them all!” Haddix particularly enjoyed videotaping Lucy’s SAR evaluation, which was conducted by Animal Care Coordinator Martha Cline. “We purposefully left the video unedited so that the evaluators could see that Lucy was spot-on for every task. She found the ball every time with no distractions. It was like watching your child ace her final examination. We were very excited with her results.”
Even though Lucy had passed difficult tests with flying colors, finding a group to take her into a SAR program wasn’t easy because of her “part pit bull” background. Fortunately for Lucy, her backers weren’t giving up. They contacted Best Friends Animal Society for advice in promoting shelter dogs for search and rescue. Best Friends provided a nationwide list of SAR organizations, and volunteers started distributing Lucy’s video via email to the various groups. Word spread through the SAR community, and a few days later, Lisa Myers called from Las Vegas, looking for a dog to train for search and rescue. She had seen Lucy’s video and knew the dog had potential. Myers, a nurse as well as a dog trainer, is part of the Nevada Search and Rescue Task Force, the vice president of a new Schutzhund club Der Nevada Schutzhund Verein, and a Canine Good Citizen (CGC) and therapy dog evaluator.
And in that moment, Lucy’s life changed.
As Lucy’s new handler, Myers has high hopes. “Lucy is in the evaluation phase, which will last for a while,” she explains. “I want her to have ample opportunity to prove her abilities. Right now we are getting to know each other, and she is getting to know my other two dogs. She is learning the boundaries of the house and yard and the routine. We play ball, and she searches for the ball in the house. I am looking at her desire and willingness to follow through despite distractions. . . and her desire to hunt.”
Myers plans to train Lucy and either keep her as one of her dogs or find a spot for her on the Nevada Search and Rescue Task Force. “There are many things to look at for a disaster dog: hunt drive, prey drive, solid nerve, agility. She looks good right now,” Myers said. And she added, “She is a very sweet-natured dog.”
Where Lucy goes from here depends a lot on her abilities. Sure there’s more to it than that, but ability is where it starts . . . that and a special something. . . .
Lucy’s Video of Her Being Tested for Search and Rescue
Lucy Getting Ready for Her Flight to Las Vegas!