National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

Adopt A Highway® is a Proud Partner With the
National Disaster Search Dog Foundation!

Their Mission: Strengthening Disaster Response in America

Founded in 1996, the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, non-governmental organization based in Ojai, California. Its mission is to strengthen disaster response in America by recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters.

The program offers professionally trained canines and an ongoing training program at no cost to fire departments. It ensures lifetime care for every dog in the program: once rescued, these dogs never need to be rescued again. There are currently 65 SDF-trained Search Teams located in Baja California, California, Florida, Nebraska, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, and Virginia. Thanks to Mutual Aid Agreements between counties, cities and states, these precious, life-saving resources can be shared regionally and nationally to make sure that when disaster strikes, NO ONE IS LEFT BEHIND.


Canine Training Program

SDF recruits dogs from shelters and breed rescue groups, gives them professional training, and partners them with firefighters and other first responders to find live people trapped in the wreckage following disasters. They go to great lengths to find Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies, Belgian Malinois and mixes of those breeds with the exceptional characteristics required in a Search Dog: intense drive, athleticism, energy and focus. The traits that can make dogs unsuitable as family pets and land them in a shelter—intense energy and extreme drive—are exactly the qualities required in a Search Dog. SDF offers these amazing animals what they crave: a job!

Their nationally recognized training program turns these dogs into rescuers in the hands of highly skilled, caring professionals:

  • Canine Recruitment from animal shelters and breed rescue groups
  • Evaluation, socialization and Search Dog Training at SDF’s National Training Center in Santa Paula, CA (8 to 10 months)
  • Partnering the Canine and Handler (14 days)
  • Training toward FEMA or State Certification (1 year)
  • Ongoing training to maintain top Deployment Readiness

Ongoing training

SDF canines receive their formal search training from a talented group of professional trainers led by Sonja Heritage, recognized as one of the nation’s top canine trainers in the field of urban search and rescue.

Once the dog and firefighter are partnered as a team, they form an extraordinary bond that will one day save lives. The dog is with his handler 24/7, ready at any moment should disaster strike. The team trains weekly on rubble to reach the extremely high skill level needed to attain FEMA or State Certification. SDF provides ongoing training to ensure that the teams maintain top deployment readiness at all times.

Lifetime Care Program

It takes a very special canine to work in the field of Search and Rescue. When a dog who is accepted into our training program does not have everything needed for this highly specialized line of work, he or she becomes enters our Lifetime Care community. Some of these dogs are trained for another career like drug detection or companion dogs to Veterans suffering from PTSD.

Others are destined to become beloved family pets. SDF finds an adoptive family for each one of these extraordinary animals, trains the canine and the family, stays in touch with the household, and acts as the dog’s advocate for life, making sure that he or she is receiving excellent care in a happy, healthy environment. The program ensures that every dog in the SDF family has a wonderful life and is in no risk of re-entering the shelter system. This is SDF’s unwavering commitment.

Major Deployments

In recent years SDF recruit dogs have been successfully deployed in some of the worst disasters imaginable. Some of these disasters include:

How You Can Help    

There are many ways to give:

  • Sponsor a Search Dog - It's a long journey from abandoned pet to disciplined lifesaver. Sponsor a Search Dog and follow "your" canine's progress from recruitment to deployment.
  • Volunteer with SDF - What do you enjoy doing in your spare time? SDF has dozens of volunteer opportunities ranging from creative writing to special event setup, and you don't have to be based in Ventura County, CA to help out!
  • Workplace Giving - There are many ways your employer can partner with SDF to help provide materials, services or financial aid. We'd be delighted to discuss ideas with you.
  • Leave a Legacy - Find out how your estate gift can help SDF plan for the future to meet the growing needs of urban search teams across the US.

At AHMC we feel fortunate to have the opportunity to support such an incredible foundation. We know that our donations are going toward a phenomenal program and truly exceptional cause. If it weren’t for the National Search Dog Foundation, many individuals that get caught in an unexpected and unfortunate disaster may never have the opportunity to live.

We invite you to take a look at their website and learn more about this incredible Foundation

Help us support The National Search Dog Foundation! It's a non-profit organization that works to strengthen disaster response in America by recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters...