Disaster Relief Dogs To The Rescue

Beverly Isla on Pet Life Radio

Many people around the world wish they can save more dogs in need. But do we realize to what extent some dogs actually rescue us? This episode will uncover the one job that service dogs do that can make or break human lives. Disaster-relief dogs. Our guests today will be Wilma Melville, founder of Search Dog Foundation and Ann Wichmann, founding member of Search and Rescue Dog of the United States (SARDUS), also a FEMA handler. Both Wilma and Ann have done tremendous work training and handling dogs that have been first responders of several natural disasters including the Sept.11 disaster at the World Trade Centers, earthquakes, missing persons, and much more. This show our guests will walk us through some of things that happen behind the scenes that we may not be aware of.  


Wilma Melville

A retired Physical Education instructor, mother of four sons, and grandmother of six, Wilma was one of the FEMA Certified Canine Search Specialists who responded to the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. Convinced that more highly trained teams were needed in the U.S., she founded the Search Dog Foundation to address this critical gap in our nation’s disaster response network. She partnered with renowned dog trainer Pluis Davern, and together they created a new methodology for training Search Dogs. Still very active within the Foundation, Wilma is directly involved in the planning of the National Training Center, assists in fundraising efforts, and is active with canine recruitment and Search Team training. She’s lives in her hangar at Santa Paula Airport, flying her experimental airplane, an RV7, as often as she can.

Ann Wichmann

Ann Wichmann’s background boasts 28 years in environmental education, public speaking, natural resource management, wildfire and prescribed fire management, law enforcement, search and rescue, EMS, horse patrol, conflict resolution, public relations, and all aspects of park management. Ann has also instructed at numerous national and state park management conferences; have sponsored and taught numerous training seminars in search and rescue topics, canines, and incident command; taught at International Rescue Dog Symposia in Berlin, Stockholm, Prague, and Seoul; and have received several awards for her expertise.

Ann Wichmann is a certified FEMA operational handler/dog team and have worked hundreds of actual search missions involving wilderness, trailing, disaster, water, avalanche, evidence, and cadaver searches. Some of the training she provides canines include: wilderness air scent, trailing, water search, avalanche, live disaster.
In fact, she was a member of the instructional cadre with the FEMA Canine Search Specialist Training Course since inception (1991 - 2011) and has co-developed national curriculum and canine standard. Her roles involved conducting evaluations, pre-evaluations and training sessions to help task forces achieve canine certification. Ann retired from the FEMA system and Colorado Task Force I in June of 2011.