Concord resident Shay Cook and her search dog, Rixi, a 6-year-old German Shepherd, were among teams from the California Rescue Dog Association who returned last week after a harrowing experience searching for victims of the mudslide in Oso, WA.
“It was an honor and a privilege to respond to assist Washington in a time of need," Cook said. "The devastation was tremendous and there is a great need to get teams in the field to help with the mission. I am glad I was able to go.”
CARDA Dispatcher Greg Slavit reported that the teams “put in many hours on a variety of assignments, made a difference and came away safe.”
CARDA teams drove to and from the disaster’s Eastern front.
Arriving in the small town of Darrington, Karen Atkinson, with her search dog, Amiga, said, “It touched my heart to see their grief. ... Their spirit had a powerful impact on me and I will never forget them.”
When the teams arrived at the site of the devastation on April 3, they were awestruck by the extent of the disaster.
“It was huge. It was just huge," said Noreen McClintock, who searched the site with her dog, Cai. "I can’t imagine what the first responders went through. The people buried by that slide were their family and friends.”
Each team was assigned to a section of the slide.
“They took a layer down, ran the dogs through, then took another layer down”, McClintock reported. “If one dog gave an indication then they would bring another dog in. If that dog indicated then they dug by hand. The whole operation depended on the work of the dogs. And the dogs were amazing.”
Cook, who searched for missing people with Rixi, found it hard to leave when her assignment ended.
"My heart wanted to stay and keep helping, but I knew there were many new, fresh dog teams to continue the search," said Cook, reporting that CARDA, a statewide all-volunteer organization, has sent seven teams to Oso so far.
CARDA serves as a resource for the California State Office of Emergency Services who deployed the CARDA handlers and five other teams.
Handler Lori Powers, with her dog, Moxie, also found it hard to leave.
“It felt wrong to leave the site with the job not complete", said Powers, "but I felt blessed to participate and work with so many of the teams and residents. It was still the right time to leave as the dogs had a real limit to what they can endure.
"Coming home really made me think about the lessons I learned at Oso. Tell your family and friends you love them. Forgive others. Your life can be gone in an instant and our time here is precious.”
California Rescue Dog is a non-profit organization (www.carda.org) that operates 24-hours a day to help find missing people.
Donations help pay for travel costs, veterinary emergencies and general expenses. Donations can be sent to: CARDA,4061 East Castro Valley Blvd., #209 Castro Valley, CA 94552.