OJAI, Calif. - A group of highly trained search dogs are helping rescue crews in Oklahoma. Many of the canine teams were trained in Ojai.
Rescue crews searching for survivors know every second counts.
Teams from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation can make the difference between life and death.
"When you've got something like the tornadoes going on now, you can imagine going through homes and there's clothes buried, and food, and you can't afford to waste the rescuers time digging through the debris," explained N.D.S.D.F. Executive Director Debra Tosch.
The dogs undergo intense training. They learn how to alert first responders when they sense someone buried in the wreckage, and ignore other distractions along the way.
"It's just as important to say no one is here, as to say someone is here, because when time is of the essence, you have to make every resource as efficient as you can," said Tosch.
Most of these elite canines come from California shelters.
"The same traits that make them great search dogs, are how they end up at the shelter. High energy, obsessed with toys. A lot of families can't handle that energy," explained Tosch.
Handlers with the N.D.S.D.F. are able to focus that energy.
After 8 months of training, these highly skilled dogs are placed with a firefighter or other first responder. They spend another year becoming a team.
When they are ready, they are assigned to a task force.
The foundation is currently building a new facility in Santa Paula to help keep up with the demand.
When its complete, handlers will be able to house and train about forty dogs at a time.
That's about four times the number they are able to work with right now. There are currently 72 teams from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation placed across the country.