Taz – search and rescue malinois in Moore, OK

taz1Taz is my first Malinois and I acquired him through an ad on kansascity.com. He was the runt in an “accidental” litter between an adopted 10 year old retired K9 bitch and a 1 year old male, or so the story goes. I paid less than a typical adoption fee at a shelter, but the owner interviewed me for over an hour and made me promise to never get rid of him. Although the smallest at birth, he’s now 25″ and close to 60 lbs at 14 months old. After I brought him home, I soon realized I’d got myself into something major. This is why I discourage anyone that inquires about Malinois from getting one unless they are a military or law enforcement handler, compete in ring sports or tend sheep. (I know it’s not a comprehensive list but it gets the point across) If you’re simply looking for a pet or a cool looking dog don’t get a Malinois. 

After doing some hind-sight reading on the breed and experiencing Taz’s tenacity first hand, I realized I’d better find him a job quick. I opted for search and rescue because I knew we could potentially provide some value to society while appropriately utilizing his drive and draining his energy. I sought training books, websites, materials and advice from experienced SAR handlers. I’ve been working on honing his skills for about 8 months. Though I’m a very inexperienced handler with a very young dog, Taz has clearly demonstrated to me that he can find any missing person in a very large area in minutes.

taz2When news of the destruction in Moore, OK hit, it was Taz’s first chance to be of service to society. We traveled the 5 hours from Kansas City, MO to Moore, OK and reported to the base camp as a volunteer. A K9 search team had already been formally dispatched and deployed to search the area.

After I checked in at the base camp, a uniformed officer offered to escort me into the disaster area. I later learned he did not have proper authority to do this. We looked for the deployed K9 team and we were unable to locate them. The officer let me out of the vehicle inside the disaster area and we began to search for survivors. Please NEVER do this. For your safety, the safety of your dog and the safety of other rescue workers, only bring your dog into a disaster area if you are a certified member of a SAR K9 team deployed by law enforcement or another government agency with appropriate jurisdiction. If you don’t take heed you’re most likely violating the law.

Once inside the area I saw indescribable mass destruction of epic proportions. I let Taz off the leash and gave him the command to search for survivors. We began “gridding” a residential area one block at a time, zig zagging across each street from house to house for hours and hours. This is where the drive of the Malinois became an invaluable asset.  Where most other dogs would tire out and quit searching, Taz clearly remained on task with the occasional reminder to get back to work. His behavior made it obvious he was actively searching. During long searches it’s sometimes necessary to plant a mock victim so the dog can experience some success and not get discouraged. Luckily we encountered a few individuals that stayed in the disaster area after evacuation that allowed me to reward Taz.

There was a lot of dangerous terrain to cover and unstable structures that were not safe to enter. Most houses were completely gone, so much of what was left to search were piles of bricks, lumber and sheet rock. As I passed the ruins of each home I called out to see if there was an audible response. He showed interest in several articles of clothing throughout the day but never gave an indication. He clearly knows the difference between leftover human scent and a living person. We were focusing specifically on survivors.

taz3Ultimately, we made our way through all of the residential areas in the path of destruction and did not encounter any distressed individuals.

The biggest thing I took away from working with the people of Moore, OK is hope for humanity. It is a beautiful sight seeing thousands of people from all walks of life breaking their backs selflessly in concert with each other for a common goal. I pray that this dynamic infects every person on this earth.