Skip to comments.Man's best friend: Oldest Search and Rescue dog in the U.S. nears retirement
Posted on 09/01/2010 3:08:34 PM PDT by afraidfortherepublic
Val is not just man's best friend - he's the oldest working employee at the Montebello Fire Department and reportedly the oldest working rescue dog in the nation.
Photo Gallery: Rescue Dogs in Montebello
Val, an Urban Search and Rescue canine with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, is retiring after 11 years of service and countless rescue missions.
During his career, with owner and handler Capt. Marc Valentine of the Montebello Fire Department, Val has trained other rescue dogs, searched for survivors through rubble, and offered solace to firefighters responding to Hurricane Katrina.
The golden Labrador mix, which is five months shy of 13, will retire in October, and Rico, a 3-year-old Lab nearing the completion of his training program, will take over.
"Once he retires, Val will get a chance to enjoy being a good pet," Valentine said. "He is as much of this department as anyone else."
Rico, Val's apprentice, is two months shy from his Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certification, and giving his mentor a well-deserved break.
Val took on many roles beyond the duties of rescue dog during his career. Five years ago, when Val and Valentine were in New Orleans searching for survivors, Val offered firefighters companionship.
"We were far from our homes and families, working 12 hours a day, and trudging through some of the most bleak and devastating scenes you could imagine," Valentine said about his 28-day experience in Louisiana. "At night, firefighters would come back to our camp and we would have our dogs out for the guys to pet and share stories about their pets. The time together gave firefighters a sense of normalcy despite the surroundings. The dogs felt like home," he said. Val and Rico were donated to the Montebello Fire Department by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, and are two of 225 dogs in the United States trained for rescue response.
Val and Rico work, eat, sleep and play at the Montebello fire station with firefighters during Valentine's shifts.
And, the station could not be happier, according to Valentine.
"Everyone here is real supportive," he said. "The dogs are great for our morale."
Val and Rico were rescued and trained through The National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. The organization was founded in 1996, after a need for canine response was made apparent to founder Wilma Melville during the Oklahoma bombing rescue efforts.
The foundation is a nonprofit, non-governmental organization based in Ojai, and all of the dogs selected for its program are rescued from shelters and other agencies.
"The agency seeks high-energy dogs, that may otherwise have trouble being placed in average homes," said Amy Nicholas, program manager with the foundation.
"It's like finding a needle in a haystack," Nicholas said.
Once the agency locates a potential candidate they test the dog to determine its potential.
"We are looking for a dog in the right age range, that is an athletic breed and can track a scent," Nicholas said.
"I look for the kind of dog that would rather play fetch all day than eat dinner," she said.
During the prime of his career, Val was deployed on an average of three rescue missions a year.
In the La Conchita landslide of 2005, Val surprised his handler and found the remains of a mother and three children under a pile, even though he is only trained to locate survivors.
The find gave closure to 20 family members who were hanging around the incident, and waiting for more than two days to find their missing loved ones, Valentine said.
As Val nears his retirement, Rico, a comical black Lab, reports to the station to train with Valentine and make himself at home.
"It's going to be up to Rico now," Valentine said, petting the two companions. "These dogs are the best thing that ever happened to my career."
K9 Search Dog Handler, Captain Marc Valentine, pets his search dogs Rico, left, and Val at the Montebello Fire Station in Montebello on Tuesday August 31, 2010. Valentine's search dog, Val, 12-1/2, will retire from service when new search dog, Rico, 3, gets certified in October. Valentine and Val were deployed for service during hurricane Katrina. (SGVN/Staff Photo by Keith Durflinger/SWCITY)
Doggie ping list?
Has a very golden face. Wonder why they think he’s a golden retriever/labrador retriever mix?
Did they let Val work a lot of overtime toward the end of his career, so he would get a larger retirement benefit?
I have a yellow lab that would make a great search dog-if you’re looking for a tennis ball. (My wife says lab stands for “lacks a brain”.)
Montebello Firefighter and California Urban Search and Rescue Task Force 5 team member Mark Valentine greets his rescue dog Val after arriving at the Orange County Fire Authority headquarters late Wednesday night to deploy to Haiti after a 7.0 magnitude earthquake rattled the tiny Caribbean island nation
About 2 weeks after Katrina, my husband had to make a business trip to N.O. Through an error by our travel agency, he was booked into a hotel on Canal Street. As he was unloading his luggage from his taxi, he was met by armed federal officers.
"Where do you think you are going?" he was asked.
"We have reservations at this hotel."
"There must be some mistake. This hotel is for FEMA officers and search and recover workers only."<[p>After some negotiation with the management, my husband and colleague were booked in the hotel for the 3 days their business trip would take. Meals were served "family style" and you made your own lunch to pack with you after breakfast because nothing was open yet to the public.
Guests at the hotel included some N.O. residents who had lost their homes and had no place else to stay. The most interesting part of his stay watching the dog handlers. They were up at dawn every morning and didn't return until night. When they came back with the dogs, they had to bathe them and doctor any woulnds, no matter how exhasted they were. (The dogs were going through horrendous debris and sometimes suffered cuts and abrasions.) By the time my husband arrived in N.O. for his business meeting, it was no longer a search and rescue mission -- search and recover only. Terribly depressing.
Short hair? Yes, his face is very Golden. Looks just like my big boy.
Maybe the coat, but it doesn’t look like a lab coat. What it really looks like is a golden coat trimmed down. But, who knows. I find often people call “golden retrievers” “golden labs” or the reverse. I wonder if this dog is a golden who was misidentified. At any rate, what a good guy!
Based on that picture: He looks 100% Lab to me.
I have a 2-year old 110lb Bloodhound that would have made an excellent search and rescue dog. A lot of people picture Bloodhounds as being lazy-lay-on-the-porch all day dogs but they are anything but. This big guy can go all day. They are very high energy; not frenetic like a Jack Russell, but steady.
thanks for the Good Doggie ping!
It’s a PITBULL!! Run for your life! /s
Beautiful dog, and I hope its retirement is more than two or three months before the inevitable occurs.
I have always thought bloodhounds were such cool dogs and very focused. I watched a show about them and they are an impressive breed.....can you ever have them off leash or out of a fenced in yard? It is my impression that once they catch a scent they are gone.......
My cousin had a Golden Lab who really was just that — a Golden/Lab mix. His name was Noodles and he was a wonderful dog. He had a coat that was longer than a Lab, but shorter than a Golden — just a little fluffy. Unfortunately, he died of cancer, suddenly. The kids noticed a lump on his chest when they were petting him, and he had only days to live.
It’s so sad that our big dogs live such short lives.
Goldens — 10-15 years
Labs — 10-15 years
Great Danes — 8 years
Bernise Mtn. dogs — 8 years
GSD — 10-12 yrs.
Rotties — 8 yrs.
My previous Goolden died at 15 1/2, and I’ve known one who lived to 16. My current Golden is approaching 10, and I’ve just noticed that he has developed some stiffness to one hind leg when he gets up from a nap. Just developed this week, and I’m hoping it is temporary. I just don’t know what I’d do if I lost him. He’s the perfect dog.
Thanks for posting such a sweet story with a sweet ending..........
Yes, big dogs especially, die too young. My oldest so far was 13.
There is a softness about the eyes and the bump on the top of the head betray his Golden ancestry. (1st picture) If you trimmed that picture so that just the face showed, he is the spittin’ image of my current Golden, Max.
Check out the black Lab next to him. The black Lab head is flat across the top and he’s wider through the eyes. His gaze is more determined than a Golden who just wants to love you and be loved in return.
It’s a subtle difference, but I think brytlea picked up on it. I did too. You have to have lived with Goldens to understand.