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National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

Bobcat Partners with Tough Dogs – and the People Who Train Them

The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF)  is no stranger to hard work. The organization is rooted in longevity, dedication and passion, and everyone involved knows what it means to rest easy after a hard day’s work. That’s why a partnership between SDF and Bobcat is the perfect fit.


From Rescued to Rescuer

SDF strengthens disaster response in America by producing highly skilled canine teams to search for missing persons and victims of natural and man-made disasters. Search dogs train on simulated rubble piles and mock disaster sites where volunteer victims are hiding.

The California-based nonprofit was founded in 1996 and has trained a total of 180 certified teams that have deployed to 216 disasters and missing person searches.

After a disaster, when buildings have crumbled to the ground, dogs can search much more quickly and safely than people can. By training on simulated rubble piles and mock disaster sites where volunteer victims are hiding, the canines and their handlers prepare themselves to find people who would otherwise remain buried. A disaster search dog must learn to crawl through tunnels, walk up and down ladders, and navigate wobbly and uneven surfaces. The dog must be able to go in a direction that their handler has signaled and stop and wait for instructions. When a dog locates human scent beneath the debris, they are trained to produce a loud, sustained “bark alert” to let their handler know they have found a person. The foundation of their training is established using a reward sequence that taps into the dog’s natural instinct and desire to play and tug with toys.

A trainer poses shoulder to shoulder with a disaster search dog.


How Bobcat Plays a Role

Several years ago, the SDF maintenance team received enough donations to purchase a Bobcat® T750 compact track loader. They use the loader daily to perform facility maintenance tasks like brush clearing, gravel road maintenance and perhaps most importantly: keeping the disaster simulation sites safe and challenging for the dogs. They use the machine to move rubble, which provides a stimulating and exciting opportunity for each dog on a mock rescue mission. If the courses aren’t occasionally refreshed, the dogs memorize where the volunteer victims are hiding.

A Bobcat compact track loader clears a path to remove a vehicle

“We’re making our props into dynamic, constantly evolving courses,” said Denise Sanders, senior director of communications and handler operations at SDF. “We’re training the next generation of search teams so that they are prepared before they step off a plane or a bus at the next disaster site. Our hope is to give them that training ahead of time so that somewhere in their toolbox, they have a resource they can pull from when they really need it. Bobcat equipment helps us build up our training center even more and create that dynamic training experience we need.”

Next Steps for Bobcat + SDF

A partnership between Bobcat and the Search Dog Foundation presents many opportunities for both parties. SDF continues to utilize Bobcat equipment on-site, expanding their fleet to accommodate for several projects on campus. They are using attachments to clear brush for a new development, clean up downed trees after storms and any other project that requires a powerful, agile machine.

SDF proudly parks their Bobcat compact track loader at the maintenance facility, which overlooks the property. Each time a tour group goes through campus, or a new first responder team is brought onsite for training, they see the equipment that SDF relies on every day.

A disaster search dog leaps over a pile of debris

Bobcat is proud to support this nonprofit organization that provides so much good in times of despair. SDF provides opportunities for rescue dogs to receive life-saving training, and for first responders to train and partner with a search dog for life. Together, Bobcat and the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation are One Tough Team.