When Rocket was being held at the Sacramento Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the border collie mix was deemed too energetic to be adopted. Five years later, he's on the ground, helping first responders in Texas after Hurricane Harvey.
In 2012, Rocket's outlook was grim, reports The Sacramento Bee. Wanting to give the dog a second chance, workers at the Sacramento SPCA suggested he be considered as a search and rescue dog, but the pup failed the test given by a recruiter from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF).
"He did OK, but he didn't quite have it the first time around but [Andrea, the recruiter] absolutely fell in love with him," says Denise Sanders, communications and development officer with SDF.
Andrea and her canine handler husband brought him home anyway and decided to work with him.
"He did phenomenally the second time around," according to Sanders. "Our trainer said, 'I want that dog. Can I have him?' and the rest is history. He is a rock star."
The high-energy dog thrived in training and in August 2014, the dog paired up with Engineer Mike Stornetta of the Windsor Fire Protection District in California. The pair achieved FEMA certification and this is their second deployment together — their first major deployment as members of Oakland-based California Task Force 4.
"Mike and Rocket are trained in finding live victims during disasters," the Windsor Fire Protection District posted on Facebook. "They have trained together for several years in order to be prepared for just such a disaster, they are ready and willing and we know they will do an awesome job! Stay safe Mike and Rocket."
Rocket and Stornetta are one of 15 search dog teams trained through the SDF aiding rescue and relief efforts in Texas after the storm. Here's most of the roster:
From rescued to rescuer
Dogs in the program are all rescue dogs. According to SDF, "Typically these dogs demonstrate high energy, tenacity and boldness, making them ideal for search and rescue, but unsuitable for a family pet. After passing stringent screening and testing criteria, the dogs are then trained to harness that high energy, drive and tenacity into life-saving skills."
The SDF says it costs $20,000 to recruit, care for, train and partner a dog with a handler, and then offer ongoing training to the pair. They are provided at no cost to fire departments and other disaster response agencies.
They are partnered with firefighters and other first responders and trained to find people buried in the wreckage of disasters.
"They're looking for the live scent of a human being and are taught to associate that they get their toy as a reward," says Sanders. "They may or may not realize they are saving lives in the meantime. They truly love their work. They do it out of true love of the game."
A proud success story
The Sacramento SPCA has a post on its Facebook page, wishing well to its successful four-legged alum.
“I think it’s just a testament that … just because an animal ends up in the shelter doesn’t mean that they are an animal that someone doesn’t want or that they don’t have a lot to give to the community," Dawn Foster, a spokeswoman for the Sacramento SPCA, told the Sacramento Bee.
Foster tells MNN that the staff at the SPCA are incredibly proud to have Rocket on the ground in Houston helping those in need.
"Rocket's story is a testament to the wonderful variety of animals that can be found at local shelters," she says. "Each animal is special in their own way and all are waiting for the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of the people they meet."
And the recruiter who gave the energetic dog a second chance is proud of her former student and the work he's doing.
"I’m so glad that Mike and Rocket are able to respond to those in need (in Texas)!," Rocket's recruiter, Andrea, posted on Facebook.
"It is truly amazing to see how far Rocket has come! I’m overwhelmed to think of all of the people and time and effort that has gone into a stray dog that no one wanted. This is what it’s all about! Great Job SDF!!!"