Thursday, August 19, 2010

Ground Zero SAR Veteran canine crosses Rainbow Bridge w/ handler

Rainbow Bridge


January 26, 1996 ~ August 16, 2010
The black Lab named Billy began his career with the Search Dog Foundation (SDF) staying with SDF Founder Wilma Melville and her late husband John at their home in Ojai, CA. Wilma evaluated his toy-drive and soon found she had nothing to worry about:
"Billy was outside the wrought-iron fence and my husband, John, threw a toy over the fence and into the pool. Billy went through the vertical wrought iron fence into the pool to retrieve that toy. Yes, Billy yelped as he shoved himself through, but through he went and he was one happy critter because he had the toy.  Billy simply had to have a toy.  If there was not a toy available, Billy would find one. Be it a bush, a rock, a plant... you name it, it became a toy if there was nothing else."
In November 1998, Billy was paired with Mike Scott, an 18-year veteran with Heartland Fire & Rescue. Though Mike's work included ten years with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Urban Search & Rescue Task Force, he had yet to try his hand at being a canine handler. After watching a fellow firefighter work with a dog from SDF, Mike called to inquire about becoming a handler himself and quickly found his true calling.
Mike and Billy quickly formed a solid bond as Billy went to work with Mike and spent countless hours training for the moment they would be called upon to serve their country. That moment came all too soon when they were deployed for seven days to the devastating scene of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
“We were scheduled for 12 hour shifts," Mike recalls, "but in reality they were 16 to 17 hour days because of the briefings, travel time, and other logistics. There was steel everywhere and lots of sharp objects... really rough terrain, so we had to let the dogs negotiate it on their own and search independently... the terrain really slowed them down but the dogs searched very well."
When Mike and fellow SDF Handler Steve Swaney returned from New York City, they realized that although teams must continually train even after becoming certified, even dogs with Billy's expertise do not have the opportunity to train for a disaster as large as 9/11.  This led the two handlers to recommend to SDF that an annual workshop exposing the dogs to unusual conditions to test how well they work when facing a disrupted routine would be incredibly beneficial. Mike and Steve’s suggestion is what SDF handlers now know as the annual IronDog competition, testing the deployment readiness and advanced search skills of SDF’s Certified Canine Disaster Search Teams.
In addition to their deployment to the World Trade Center attacks, Mike and Billy also responded to a landslide and retaining wall collapse in San Diego in June 1999 and the Torrey Pines Bluff collapse in December 2004. Mike and Billy served America together as a FEMA Certified Canine Disaster Search Team for six years and Mike shared that even in retirement, Billy’s eyes would still light up at the sight of a toy!
During his retirement, Billy had increasing difficulty moving around and sadly, on August 16, 2010, Mike could no longer watch his partner of twelve years suffering – Billy crossed the Rainbow Bridge with Mike by his side at the veterinarian’s office.
Even in his darkest moment, Mike still saw the good in what he and Billy had done and the canine program that they had helped build. In an email to SDF, Mike shared, "I am so proud to have had the chance to experience the reward of having a search dog and the chance to be a part of NDSDF."
We were proud to have the chance to work with a great Search Team like Mike and Billy and know that Billy will be greatly missed by all who knew him.
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