LYONS â There are good dogs, and then there are really good dogs, like the ones that are certified for urban search-and-rescue teams.
Lyons resident Rayanne Chamberlain earned certification with her Dobermann, Quest, on Oct. 27. He is her second Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) certified dog.
As a result, Quest, 3,Â is now deployable as part of Michigan Task Force One and Ohio Task Force One to respond to any natural or man-made disaster, anywhere in the nation, for the next three years.
Chamberlain and Quest are prepared to deploy to disaster areas and search rubble and destroyed buildings for survivors.
They werenât available for deployment for recent hurricanes down south, because Quest wasnât yet certified. If and when a similar disaster occurs, the duo will likely be on the scene.
âIf there are hurricanes next year, weâll be there,â Chamberlain said. âAny natural or man-made disaster, we can be deployed. He is a wide-find specialist.â
Chamberlain is a medical first responder with the Lyons/Muir Fire Department, and also does computer repair work with her husband, Dave Holcomb. She said being a dog handler is something sheâs wanted to do since an early age.
âIt was something I wanted to do from the time I was young,â she said. âI saw a news story about it and said âIâm going to do that.ââ
Quest is the sixth dog that Chamberlain has trained for search and rescue, but just the second to reach FEMA certification. Her previous FEMA dog, Bristol, didnât have a chance for national deployment, but did respond to a local disaster.
âBristol was certified at a time where weather emergencies were very rare,â she said. âWith Bristol, we responded to the tornado in Portland and searched for people.â
Bristol passed away a little over three years ago at the age of seven due to a heart condition. Chamberlain adopted Quest about three months later when he was just over seven weeks old.
The training necessary to pass FEMA certification tests is a long and detailed process, for owner and dog. Chamberlain says it takes about 2-3 years and consists of five elements: Obedience, indications, agility, directional and rubble.
The obedience element is pretty straightforward â the dog must obey commands and not be aggressive toward people or other animals. For the indications element, Chamberlain said the dogs learn to bark and stay at points where they sense trapped survivors may be.
Next is the agility element, testing the mobility of the pups. They must be able to climb ladders and move freely with shifting ground under their paws, Chamberlain said.
The directional element tests the ability of the handler and dog to work together, giving and listening to commands.
âThe test is like a baseball diamond with the bases further apart,â Chamberlain said. âWe (handlers) have to stand on home plate and direct the dogs to the different bases and pitcherâs mound.
âBecause they have four-paw drive, they can cover the ground a lot faster. That way we donât have to try to keep up with them, we can direct them from a distance.â
Finally, there is the rubble element, where the dogs and handlers are tested on finding victims in rubble piles in a simulated disaster scenario. The pair have to clear two rubble piles in 20 minutes to gain certification, Chamberlain said.
The first pile is a limited access pile. The dog searches for people in the rubble while the handler is required to stay in a designated area until the dog barks. The test is to show that the dog can work independently in case there is a scenario where the handler can’t access the disaster area.
Next is a full access pile, where the handler and dog work side-by-side to clear the pile, proving their ability to work as a team.
Even though Quest is now certified, that doesnât mean his training is over.
âIt is quite time consuming,” Chamberlain said. “Thereâs a lot of elements, and we train pretty much every day.”
Chamberlain says the training approach is different with every dog, because they all have different personalities. Luckily, Questâs personality made him a bit easier to train than most.
âHeâs been easier temperamentally,â she said. âHe thinks every person and animal in the world loves him. He can be a little annoying to other animals at times. He tried to get a possum to play with him in our backyard the other day.
âIn the end, as long as they do the job, thatâs all that matters. Itâs not about the dog or the handler, itâs about providing the best possible service.â
Quest obviously isnât the average dog, but he isnât the average FEMA-certified dog, either. Out of the 250 registered canines in the FEMA system, Quest is the only Dobermann.
âThere are other Dobermanns that do search and rescue,â Chamberlain said. âHe is the only one in FEMA. I train Dobermanns because Iâve been around them my whole life. They are working dogs and they love to work.â
Quest came to Chamberlain as a donation through the United Dobermann Club. The club has a program called Puppy Projects, where breeders donate Dobermann puppies to handlers, to get the breed more involved in search and rescue. Questâs breeder was Diane Linstrom of SolStorm Dobermanns in Kentucky.