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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
Hero Dogs

Hero Dogs

How a Pack of Rescues, Rejects, and Strays Became America's Greatest Disaster-Search Partners

Wilma Melville with Paul Lobo

St. Martin's Press

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Lola was a buckshot-riddled stray, lost on a Memphis highway. Cody was rejected from seven different homes. Ace had been sprayed with mace and left for dead on a train track. They were deemed unadoptable. Untrainable. Unsalvageable. These would become the same dogs America relied on when its worst disasters hit.

In 1995, Wilma Melville volunteered as a canine search-and-rescue (SAR) handler with her Black Labrador Murphy in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. At the time, there were only fifteen FEMA certified SAR dogs in the United States. Believing in the value of these remarkable animals to help save lives, Wilma knew many more were needed in the event of future major disasters. She made a vow to help 168 dogs receive search-and-rescue training in her lifetime—one for every Oklahoma City victim.

Wilma singlehandedly established the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to meet this challenge. The first canine candidates—Ana, Dusty, and Harley—were a trio of golden retrievers with behavioral problems so severe the dogs were considered irredeemable and unadoptable. But with patience, discipline, and love applied during training, they proved to have the ability, agility, and stamina to graduate as SARs. Paired with a trio of firefighters, they were among the first responders searching the ruins of the World Trade Center following 9/11—setting the standard for the more than 168 of the SDF’s search-and-rescue dogs that followed.
Beautiful and heart-wrenching, Her… More…

Lola was a buckshot-riddled stray, lost on a Memphis highway. Cody was rejected from seven different homes. Ace had been sprayed with mace and left for dead on a train track. They were deemed unadoptable. Untrainable. Unsalvageable. These would become the same dogs America relied on when its worst disasters hit.

In 1995, Wilma Melville volunteered as a canine search-and-rescue (SAR) handler with her Black Labrador Murphy in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. At the time, there were only fifteen FEMA certified SAR dogs in the United States. Believing in the value of these remarkable animals to help save lives, Wilma knew many more were needed in the event of future major disasters. She made a vow to help 168 dogs receive search-and-rescue training in her lifetime—one for every Oklahoma City victim.

Wilma singlehandedly established the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to meet this challenge. The first canine candidates—Ana, Dusty, and Harley—were a trio of golden retrievers with behavioral problems so severe the dogs were considered irredeemable and unadoptable. But with patience, discipline, and love applied during training, they proved to have the ability, agility, and stamina to graduate as SARs. Paired with a trio of firefighters, they were among the first responders searching the ruins of the World Trade Center following 9/11—setting the standard for the more than 168 of the SDF’s search-and-rescue dogs that followed.
Beautiful and heart-wrenching, Hero Dogs is the story of one woman’s dream brought to fruition by dedicated volunteers and firefighters—and the bonds they forged with the incredible rescued-turned-rescuer dogs to create one of America’s most vital resources in disaster response.

Less…

OneWATCH HER GO


I knew we were in for a show the instant I dropped the leash.

Murphy was off so fast her paws barely touched the ground. Only sixteen weeks old, the Black Labrador was nowhere near her adult size, but...

Praise for Hero Dogs

"A harrowing, often heartbreaking, yet inspirational tale as Melville eloquently explores the small victories and wrenching losses of the dogs’ much-needed work." —Publishers Weekly

"This book has wit, warmth, and humor but also moments of heartbreak and tears of joy scattered throughout. It is a testament to what a dream can become and how it takes a group of committed people to realize it. Readers will fall in love with the descriptions of the various rescue dogs and delight in the personalities, of both the people and the animals, that jump off the page." —Library Journal

"[An] astonishing story....Melville shares her story in straight-talking prose that evokes the tension and emotion reflective of the high stakes. She is also slyly funny, offering delightfully ironic thoughts on dog humor. When the pilot teams are thrust into the national limelight during their first real-life disaster on 9/11, the results are both triumphant and throat-closing. A fascinating read for animal lovers, thrill-seekers and rescue-hounds alike, Melville's work is proof that some good can rise from the ashes of catastrophe." —Shelf Awareness

Reviews from Goodreads

Wilma Melville with Paul Lobo

WILMA MELVILLE is a retired physical education instructor and the founder of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF). She served as a FEMA-certified canine search specialist deployed in response to the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995. Though formally retired, Wilma is actively involved with the SDF's National Training Center in Santa Paula, California. Not prone to slowing down, she still stays in constant motion, bouncing between duties as a mother, grandmother, dog trainer, pilot, and horse enthusiast.

PAUL LOBO is a writer, army veteran, and part-time volunteer for the SDF. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, newborn son, and a duo of rescued pit bulls, all of whom constantly expand the bounds of his affection (and, occasionally, his patience).

image of Wilma Melvilleo
Karyn L. Newbill

Wilma Melville

image of Paul Loboo
Paul Lobo

Paul Lobo

About Wilma Melville, from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation

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