Search Dog Teams Grow With One Woman's Efforts

Wednesday, September 7th 2011, 9:37 pm
By: News 9

Ed Murray, News 9

OKLAHOMA CITY -- A retired California PE teacher started a hobby in the early 1990s training search dogs. Wilma Melville and her black lab, Murphy, were FEMA certified in 1994. In April of the following year both were here searching for survivors in the rubble of the Murrah Building. At 77 years old, these tragedies are never far from Melville's mind.

"The days that followed were simply life changing. One doesn't get a chance to think about the details or what's really happening until you get home," Melville said.

And one detail stood out: There were only 15 FEMA-certified canine search teams in the country at that time. So Melville started the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation with private funding and grants--no tax dollars... And on 9-11 13 teams which had trained at the foundation were at the World Trade Centers.

"One cannot help but face the horror of that particular incident, the same with Oklahoma City. Individual people are forever impacted, forever. Their families and their friends equally so, but we must, I believe, look at what good can grow out of a disaster."

There have been 81 deployments over the years by foundation trained teams. Teams based in Oklahoma City and Tulsa responded to the Joplin tornado earlier this year. In all, Melville and her team have produced 131 search teams, closing in on a number she established soon after April 19, 1995.

"My personal goal is to see the search dog foundation produce 168 FEMA-certified teams, one for each of those people that died. To me, that is helpful to getting over or at least past the tragedy," she said.

Melville believes her goal is now within reach. The foundation has raised $8 million towards the $14.5 million it will take to build the country's first-ever training center for canine disaster search teams.

Melville's Search Dog Foundation will dedicate the ground for the center this Sunday, 9-11.