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Dog once set for euthanasia now helping firefighters aid Harvey victims

Rocket, who was deemed "too energetic" for adoption and was set to be put down, is a search dog trained to work with responders in disasters


By Hannah Knowles
The Sacramento Bee

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Five years ago, a Sacramento shelter dog named Rocket was deemed too energetic to be adopted and was scheduled for euthanasia.

Now, Rocket is helping out after Hurricane Harvey as a search dog trained to work with first responders in disasters.

Rocket is helping out after Hurricane Harvey as a search dog trained to work with responders in disasters. (Photo/National Disaster Search Dog Foundation)
Rocket is helping out after Hurricane Harvey as a search dog trained to work with responders in disasters. (Photo/National Disaster Search Dog Foundation)

"I think it's just a testament that ... just because an animal ends up in the shelter doesn't mean that they are an animal that someone doesn't want or that they don't have a lot to give to the community," said Dawn Foster, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, from where Rocket was adopted.

The Sacramento SPCA first recommended Rocket as a search dog in 2012. Shelter workers saw the high energy that made Rocket difficult to adopt as a potential boon for a disaster search dog, Foster said, adding that the SPCA is always looking for animals who "have that instinct to want to do jobs, that ... like to play with toys and solve problems."

But when a canine recruiter from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation tested the border collie mix, he failed.

However, according to the California-based foundation -- which has paired several Sacramento SPCA dogs with firefighters and other emergency workers in recent years -- the volunteer who tested Rocket couldn't get him out of her mind. Not wanting to leave Rocket to die, she and her husband adopted the dog, bringing him out on expeditions with another search dog. With their help, Rocket passed his search dog test in 2013.

According to the foundation, Rocket was assigned to Michael Stornetta, an engineer with the Windsor Fire District in Sonoma County. In February 2015, after extensive training, Rocket and Stornetta were certified to work in disaster zones with an Oakland-based Federal Emergency Management Agency task force.

Rocket and Stornetta are one of 14 search dog pairs trained through the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation aiding relief efforts in Texas as Hurricane Harvey displaces tens of thousands of people and floods the state.

Denise Sanders, a spokesperson for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, said dogs like Rocket are taught to find live people buried beneath rubble or otherwise trapped in the wake of a disaster. When floodwaters recede in Texas, she said, Rocket will help responders "make sure nobody gets left behind" as they walk through neighborhoods devastated by the storm.

"Those dogs with their noses can cover ground much more quickly than humans can," Sanders said.

Sanders said that after nine years with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, seeing dogs like Rocket shift from rescued to rescuer "never gets old" for her.

"And we know that there are many more like Rocket out there just waiting to be found," she said.

Copyright 2017 The Sacramento Bee

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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