OKLAHOMA CITY - Search and rescue crews are becoming more reliant on dogs to help save lives, but here in Oklahoma, there is a shortage of qualified canines.

Barry and Becky Switzer came up with a solution, in the way of a new state-of-the-art facility. At the Oklahoma City National Memorial Thursday, the Switzers revealed the Ground Zero K9 initiative, which encompasses training search and rescue certified dogs and providing them to agencies right here in Oklahoma. Being in one of the most disaster-prone states, they say it is a necessity.

Cali and Laya are Oklahoma's two newest search and rescue dogs, with a “passing of the leash” at the ceremony Thursday. They endured hours and hours of training, looking to save people in rubble and other dangerous scenarios.

Ground Zero K9’s head trainer and operations manager Darrell Wilkerson has worked with search and rescue dogs for decades as a fireman and part of tactical teams. He said, “They go into places that we’re not allowed to go into, and they can cover areas a lot faster than we can. They’ve got four-wheel drive, or as we call it, ‘four-paw drive.’”

The state now has 11 K9s on search and rescue teams. Barry Switzer wants 36, which is part of the reason why he is building a training facility.

“We train the dogs,” said Switzer. “Fire departments don’t have any money to get them…we’ll give them free. These dogs are worth $20,000 when we give them.”

Located in Tuttle on 120 acres, the Ground Zero K9 center will have every hands-on scenario for training and will be open for dogs and their handlers to visit.

“They can come in and test their skills and have classes, seminars, things like that, and they can come from around the country and around the world,” said Wilkerson.

The facility is expected to be complete within three years with help from other donors like Purina and the Chickasaw Nation.

Switzer compares the center's future graduates to something he knows well. “We want to make sure our dogs are Heisman Trophy winners,” he said, “and we want to make sure the guys that are with them are Bear Bryants and Nick Sabans and Bob Stoopses that are handling them.”

Ground Zero's trainers are currently working with dogs like Cali and Laya ahead of the opening of the center. If you would like to contribute, click here.