Did you know that not all Rescue Ranch dogs wind up as household companions? We make a lifetime commitment to them and work hard to find the best possible situation for our dogs. Usually that means finding them a wonderful home where they be the full time pets and companions they were meant to be. We’ve discovered that sometimes, however, Rescue Ranch dogs end up living their best lives as working and service dogs.
Vader the wonder dog
Recently, we learned that, sadly, Rescue Ranch’s first search and rescue (SAR) dog crossed the rainbow bridge. His name was Vader.
Vader was recruited by the Search Dog Foundation (SDF) in January, 2015. His strong ball drive and people skills made him a good candidate. He did well at every stage of his training and was eventually partnered with San Francisco firefighter Eli Thomas of California Task Force 3 (CA-TF3). The two then achieved FEMA Certification in the spring of 2016, which allowed them to deploy when disasters occurred. And occur, they did.
In 2017, Vader and Eli went on their first mission together in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. As one of 16 search teams, they spent two weeks on the East Coast assisting people affected by the storm. They also deployed to Hawaii in 2018, in advance of Hurricane Oliva.
The search and rescue duo then recertified in 2019, and we’re told that they “looked phenomenal out at the testing site.”
They continued to work together until a tumor was discovered on Vader’s leg in 2021. He underwent amputation in an effort to save his life and was retired from the task force at the end of October 2021.
Vader learned to walk on three legs and enjoyed life as the Thomas family dog for several months. But the cancer returned, and, eventually, Eli had to make the difficult decision to ease his partner’s pain and let him go in February, 2022. It was a sad day for everyone who knew this amazing dog. The one consolation for us is that Vader, the rescue dog, found his true vocation as a rescuer himself. We couldn’t have offered him a better life than the one he had with Eli Thomas and his family.
Other search and rescue dogs from Rescue Ranch
Vader’s success in the SDF training program opened up new possibilities for Rescue Ranch dogs.
Dogs like little Siska, a black shepherd/border collie mix who came to us in 2020. She had the qualities that SDF looks for, and we thought she would be a great candidate. Sure enough, she was successful graduated from their program. Siska is now a full-fledged SAR dog.
Chirp is a young 60 lb., brownish red and black, shepherd mix who is currently training at SDF. We get regular updates and he seems to be doing great!
Squirrel the the ball obssessed Forest Service dog
A strong ball drive is highly desirable in SAR candidates. The ball gets the dogs started with the search process and keeps them interested. It’s also the reward that they will do anything for, which keeps them motivated during training. But a strong ball drive isn’t enough for them to succeed at SDF, there are many factors that come into play. It may just be that their superpower lies elsewhere.
Take Squirrel, for example. She had an absolutely relentless ball drive. Rescue Ranch dog handler Austin Browder, tells me that when she arrived in 2017, she was beyond energetic. She was also an escape artist who would literally “climb the ceiling” of her covered kennel!
He used her ball drive to gain her trust and keep her both physically and mentally engaged. The video below shows her running with a ball and chased by puppies. Afterhours, Austin would hide the ball somewhere in the office: on top of cabinets, behind furniture, anywhere he could. Squirrel could always find it. He says she was like a cat. She would climb around without knocking anything over to get that ball.
Squirrel seemed like a no-brainer for SDF, except for one thing: she was people reactive. Whatever her past, Squirrel had trust issues with humans and was extremely selective. The ball training helped with her issues but not enough to succeed at SDF. Luckily, her amazing talents were recognized by USDA handlers and she went off to train at one of their facilities. After training, she was slated for he Forest Service to search for signs of avian flu. Way to go, Squirrel!
Lady finds the perfect job, on the perfect team
Lady was another dog, who, although she was good with people and had a strong ball drive, didn’t make it in SAR. Instead, she found a home with the Rogue Detection Team as an environmental detection dog at a wind turbine farm.
We think that she really hit the jackpot with her handler, Sarah, and her canine companion, Ptero. According to Sarah: “Lady and Ptero are the absolute cutest pair you have ever seen! They LOVE each other and today started to do everything like twins. It’s insanely cute to watch these two fetch obsessed black floppy-eared beauties together. We are so delighted to have her join the pack. She’s like a perpetual puppy and just brings so much joy and laughter.”
Sounds pretty idyllic to us!
Littles make great service dogs
Service dogs come in all shapes and sizes. For Rescue Ranch several “littles”, including chihuahua and mini pincher mixes, have gone on to become service dogs.
Selected and trained to meet the needs of a specific person, they perform a vital function. Below is one lucky pup about to leave for training with the gals from Dogs For Better Lives in southern Oregon.
As you can see, despite their often difficult beginnings, rescue dogs can be found in the most unexpected places engaged in a wide variety of activities.
When you support Rescue Ranch, you not only give dogs a chance at life, you give them a chance at living their best lives as working and service dogs, or as your forever furry companion.