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.
About the Author
WILMA MELVILLE is a retired Physical Education instructor and grandmother of six, Wilma founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to address this gap in our nation’s disaster response network. Still active within the Foundation, Wilma serves on the Board of Directors and is involved with the planning of the National Training Center. When time permits, Wilma enjoys piloting her experimental airplane, an RV7A, based at her hangar at Santa Paula Airport.
Paul Lobo has been writing fiction and nonfiction for several years as a software engineer and army veteran. He has been involved with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation for over a year, and is the coauthor of Hero Dogs.
He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two rescued pit bulls.
"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