I did some charity shooting for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation recently. This organization trains dogs and their human handlers how to locate trapped victims under rubble, in buildings and other disaster situations. They assisted survivor rescue at the World Trade Center site after September 11th, as well as the La Conchita landslide, Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, and the Chatsworth Train Collision (among other disasters).
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This all started for me last year, as the result of a bike ride. There’s a particular short ride I like to do on my road bike, when I’m feeling the need for some hills, but don’t have all day to ride. Beautiful Southern California countryside, with a road that winds up through a canyon, and ranches on either side. On one such ride, I noticed a new sign had gone up: “Future Home of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation Training Site.” Hey that sounded cool!
It took me a few more bike rides though to really get curious. Eventually I checked out their website. Turns out one of my eldest son’s former preschool teachers was now working for this organization. And that clinched it: I was interested in doing some charitable photography, and this organization seemed ideal. So I contacted my son’s former teacher, and she introduced me to some other members. We discussed photo shoots, but never could coordinate a time. It was the beginning of my busy holiday season at that point too, so it dropped by the wayside.
Fast forward to January. I’m finally catching a breather from the previous few months, and now seemed like a good time. I emailed them again, and they just so happened to have an event for me.
As part of the design of their new center (the one I cycle by), a team of architects were going to design custom training structures. Currently NDSDF uses various existing sites to train their dogs and handlers, such as fire fighter training centers, various abandoned buildings and rubble heaps. However these sites are often closed, cleaned up, or otherwise become unavailable. So the architects needed to see the types of locations and structures currently used to train, so they could create purpose-built structures that accomplished the same thing. As part of that tour, they would get a demonstration of a search dog doing its thing. And I was there to shoot it.
The dog is named Dawson, and his handler was Ron Weckbacher (the Incident Commander for NDSDF). The lead shot shows Dawson, perched on top of a rubble heap in Oxnard, CA while the sun is setting.
These dogs climb ladders! Below is Dawson climbing a two-story ladder at the Fire Fighter Training Center in Camarillo, CA. This dog can climb a ladder faster than I can.
Two more shots of Dawson on the rubble.
A quick portrait-y shot of Dawson’s handler, Ron.
And finally, Executive Director Debra Tosch provides details to the architect team about requirements for the new center.