Today I had the pleasure to photograph an event for the National Search Dog Foundation. It was to celebrate the opening of their new training facility in Santa Paula, CA. The Search Dog Foundation raises and trains dogs to be used in urban search and rescue operations. Most of the dogs are ‘rescued’ dogs from the pound, or from owners who give them up for adoption. The dogs have to be extremely disciplined, and only a small percentage of the graduate (the rest are given good homes). They must be able to follow verbal or visual commands from their handlers from hundreds of feet away, ignore distractions, climb up, over, under and around precarious obstacles, and then be able to sniff out a trapped person buried under rubble.
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I photographed a training exercise for the SDF a few months back (blog post here). Today’s event was more of a party, open house and demonstration show. Dogs and their handlers were flown in from all over the country to participate.
The image above shows a dog about to start across a beginner’s obstacle course. You can see in the background what the advanced dogs are required to do!
Below you see the dogs, waiting for the handlers to give the ‘go’ command. The dogs are sometimes required to stay in place for long periods of time, for example if the handlers need to get supplies, confer with others etc. No good having your fancy search dog wander off in search of dinner while you were gone!
Another shot of the waiting dogs. All focused on their individual handlers, all ready spring into action at a moment’s notice.
It was getting pretty hot today, and the facility had ‘cooling stations’ available for the dogs. I found this one hidden behind some buildings, with a dog enjoying a nice swim before heading back out to greet its public.
The SDF’s new home is in a wonderful canyon that I often ride my bike up, with beautiful rural views and a few farms here and there. Here is a boy on a fence, watching as the hayride starts off. Sadly, I didn’t get a chance to go on the hayride.
On a technical note, my lighting was pretty simple. SB-28 set to auto in my left hand, with the sensitivity dialed down two stops for fill. It was triggered by Cybersyncs. Nothing fancy, but it did the trick.