Susan McKinney | Books puts spotlight on dogs with special duties

Susan McKinney | Books puts spotlight on dogs with special duties

In 1995, Wilma Melville volunteered as a canine search-and-rescue handler with her dog, Murphy, to help with the Oklahoma City Bombing. In 1995, there were only 15 FEMA-certified search-and-rescue dogs nationwide. After working that tragic site, she vowed to help 168 dogs (one for each victim).

"Hero Dogs: How a Pack of Rescues, Rejects, and Strays Became America's Greatest Disaster-Search Partners" is the story of her fulfilling that vow.

Melville founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to fulfill her vow. Her first three dogs were Ana, Dusty and Harley, golden retrievers that were considered to be irredeemable and unadoptable.

They were considered to have behavioral problems that made them so. She worked a long time with them to make them the SAR dogs she knew them to be. She applied patience, love and discipline to get them to graduate.

These three dogs, along with their firefighter co-workers, were among the first responders searching the ruins of the World Trade Center following 9/11.

One of the things that took me most by surprise: They train the dogs to go up and down extension ladders. The pictures of the dogs doing this amazes me. I'm one of those people who cannot go up and down those kinds of ladders, with hands. Here are dogs that can do a much better job scaling these ladders than I ever could.

The book portrays in detail some of the search and rescue efforts of 9/11, as well as biographies of several of the first dogs she took into her training.

By 2005, they only had 65 dogs that had graduated the program. Hurricane Katrina hit the coast, and her dogs went into the field again helping search for survivors.

She found out with 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina that the publicity of the dogs working helped bolster the finances of her foundation, finances that were desperately needed for the training.

In the first 10 years, her foundation was staffed with mostly volunteers. It is expensive to train a dog to be a FEMA-certified SAR dog.

Her dogs have helped in mudslides in California over the years. They assisted in locating survivors in Haiti after the 7.0 earthquake hit in 2010.

This is a beautiful, emotional and heart-warming story of a woman who took rescue dogs and turned them into rescuers.

These dogs are canines that nobody wanted, dogs that kept getting returned to the shelters, dogs that needed something special.

The relationships that formed between the dogs and their firefighter partners come to life in this book.

Though she is partly retired at age 85, she still works as a trainer for SDF. She finally passed the 168 benchmark in 2017. It takes a lot of people to make the goal of 168 dogs, and Melville wants the story to be about those people and the dogs, not herself.

Susan McKinney is the librarian at the St. Joseph Township-Swearingen Memorial Library. She received her master's in library science from the University of Illinois. She came here from Indiana for graduate school and fell in love with the area. She has lived here ever since. She is an avid reader and enjoys mystery, suspense, fantasy and action novels.

Sections (1):Living
Topics (1):Books