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Chumash Donate $150,000 for Search Dog Foundation Training Center

The Search Dog Foundation, which trains and deploys canine-firefighter teams to disaster sites to look for people buried alive beneath wreckage, has received $150,000 from the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation to help complete its National Training Center project in Santa Paula.

The Ojai-based Search Dog Foundation is making sure that local search and rescue teams have the resources they need to be at their highest level of deployment readiness. It’s through the new facility that the Search Dog Foundation will be able to provide these vital resources to local and national search teams.

With the donation, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians helps the Search Dog Foundation to train and recruit more search teams and increase the efficiency of its operations by moving them under one roof — the one-of-a-kind National Training Center.

“It’s an honor for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians to be a part of such a monumental project,” said Vincent Armenta, chairman for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians. “Through the Search Dog Foundation’s mission of teaming rescued dogs with firefighters and training them for disaster search and rescue, many more lives will be saved. That’s a mission we’re proud to support.”

The facility is under construction on 125 acres of historic ranch land in the foothills of Santa Paula, 50 minutes southwest of Santa Barbara.

Slated for completion by late 2014, the National Training Center will also feature an extremely challenging environment that simulates real disaster scenarios. A medical suite will also be built to provide comprehensive veterinary care and keep the search canines healthy. It will also include well-equipped classrooms where handlers will share what they have learned in training and on deployments; and a handlers’ lodge for first responders and their families with a full-service kitchen, comfortable living room and play areas for their children.

The organization was founded by Wilma Melville, a retired teacher, after her deployment to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. At that time, there were only 15 FEMA-certified canine disaster search teams in the entire country and only six in California. She designed a program based on partnering rescued dogs with firefighters and training them according to a new, streamlined methodology.

The Search Dog Foundation has a strong tradition of providing professionally trained search dogs to the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, made possible by local supporters, including the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians.

In 1996, Santa Barbara County Fire partnered Capt. Howard Orr with a chocolate lab named Duke, trained by the Search Dog Foundation, to respond to earthquakes, mudslides and building collapses. They helped set the standard for disaster search and rescue in our nation and paved the way for a new generation of Santa Barbara SDF Search Teams: Linda Tacconelli and Joe, and Eric Gray and Riley.

“We are so grateful to the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians for the support of the Search Dog Foundation,” said Janet Reineck, director of development for the Search Dog Foundation. “They have allowed us to create a team in Santa Ynez, Eric and Riley, who are now deployment ready to go anywhere in the community, in Santa Ynez, in California or anywhere in the nation.”

In August 2010, just weeks after attaining FEMA certification, Eric and Riley were deployed to the scene of a fatal crash when a Santa Barbara family’s home was destroyed by a gravel truck whose driver lost control of the vehicle coming down Highway 154. In March 2011, Linda and Joe, along with Eric and Riley, were deployed to Ofunato, Japan, following the devastating earthquakes and tsunami.

Through its foundation, the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians has donated more than $16 million to hundreds of groups, organizations and schools in the community and across the nation as part of the Chumash’s long-standing tradition of giving. Click here to find out more about the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation and its giving programs.

— Mike Traphagen is a public relations specialist for the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Foundation.

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