Local rescue dog saves lives in Haiti


Pearl, a High Sierra Animal Rescue dog turned search and rescue dog, and her handler, Captain Ron Horetski of the Los Angeles County Fire Department, were part of a task force deployed to Haiti Jan. 13.

Pearl's journey began in May 2007, when Plumas County Animal Services picked her up as a stray. Although Pearl's owner was known and contacted by PCAS, she was never reclaimed.

After a month at PCAS, Pearl was transferred to High Sierra Animal Rescue in Portola.

Within days of arriving at HSAR, it was obvious Pearl needed a job. Her high drive and energy made her the perfect candidate for search and rescue.

High Sierra Animal Rescue brought in the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to producing the most highly trained canine disaster search teams in the nation, to test Pearl's abilities.

"Within the first five minutes of the testing process, I knew we had a winner," says SDF Canine Manager Karen Klingberg. "I was thrilled with Pearl, which made the 10-hour drive worth every minute. I loaded her up in the van and off we went to Gilroy to begin her formal search dog training."


In July 2008, Pearl was assigned to Horetski. He and Pearl achieved certification with the Federal Emergency Management Agency in May 2009.
As part of California Task Force 2, Horetski and Pearl were deployed to find victims buried under the rubble left behind by the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that hit Haiti Jan. 12. The 72-member team, with 70,000 pounds of rescue equipment, arrived in a C-17 cargo plane as dawn broke over Port-Au-Prince Jan. 14.

The next day, one of the SDF search teams located three girls, trapped alive in the rubble. Highly trained rescue crews from CA-TF2 took over and extricated the girls from the wreckage.

CA-TF2 rescued a woman from the rubble of her hotel Jan. 17. The appreciation shown by locals for the search teams and their task force was overwhelming. As soon as the woman was pulled from the wreckage, Haitians gathered in the street and began chanting, "U.S.A., U.S.A., U.S.A."
The teams are working long hours, stopping only long enough to let the dogs rest before starting to search again. Once they begin a search operation, they work until the effort is complete.

According to Captain Jayd Swendseid of CA-TF2, "The teams are working 12-hour shifts so they can have time to rest and recuperate."
SDF Executive Director Debra Tosch said, "All SDF handlers are experts in reading their canines, pacing them throughout their shift to ensure the dogs are kept safe, healthy and motivated. The canines are literally the task forceís most precious tool in the hunt for survivors: Their well-being is mission-critical."

Of the 70 people rescued from beneath the wreckage left behind by the earthquake, 36 were located by search dogs.
"The rescues in Haiti underscore the critical importance of canine search teams in finding survivors in the aftermath of major disasters. This is our mission, and we're honored to be part of the Haiti rescue effort in conjunction with the U.S. Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance and the L.A. County Task Force," said Tosch.

High Sierra Animal Rescue is no stranger to search and rescue. Since 2004, it has successfully placed four dogs with SDF.
"We are very proud to be a part of the search. Our hearts go out to all the people directly and indirectly affected by the earthquake in Haiti. Our thoughts and concerns are with Ron, Pearl and all those who have responded to Haitiís cry for help," said High Sierra Animal Rescue director Karen Neely.

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