Hero Dogs

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 22 Jan 2019

Member Reviews

I was totally moved by this story of Wilma Melville, who began the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation after seeing the need for better trained search and rescue dogs after the Oklahoma City bombing. She chooses dogs needing rescue themselves and builds a crackerjack team. A must-read for every animal lover! Thanks to the author, the publisher and NetGalley for the review copy. Opinions are mine. Pub Date 08 Jan 2019. #HeroDogs #NetGalley
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Title: Hero Dogs

Author: Wilam Melville

Genre: Nonfiction

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.


My thoughts

Rating: 5

Would I recommend it ? yes

WOW what a great story this turned out to be, can't believe I didn't get to this last year when I request it because I love nonfiction and I love stories like this , but I'm so glad that I picked it up this year to read and found out that I had missed out on a  great book. Because I had no idea there was so many different types of canine search and rescue dogs, I knew about 1 of them and they were and are the ones  that assist law  enforcement with any and all crime scenes.  Reading this book taught me about the different ones and told me a little be about their jobs. Other thing I loved about this book is how the author showed that no matter what and no matter what type of dogs they where , that with a patience, discipline, and love applied during training , that they wasn't throw away dogs and they also deserved to be loved and have good homes. She also showed how much we needed the SDF  because with out them more lives would be lost then ever before , with that said I want to thank Netgalley for letting me read and review it .
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Wow.
Just wow.

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

I mean the title tells you exactly what the book is going to be about but I am amazed by the work these dogs and their handlers put in. I feel it necessary to put in a disclaimer here; this book covers a wide variety of traumatic events including: the Oklahoma City Bombing, 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Rita, and the 2010 Haiti Earthquake. 

Wilma Melville was freshly retired, in her 60's, and walking the aftermath of the Oklahoma City Bombing with her search dog, Murphy. The events that took place shocked her to her very core. That was when she had the idea to start the Search Dog Foundation (SDF). Her goal was to find shelter dogs and give them another chance at life, a life as a working dog. The idea was to find, train, certify, and eventually deploy at least 168 search dog teams; one team for each of the people killed in the bombing.

But Wilma didn't want this story to be about her.

She wanted it to be about Murphy, Ana, Dusty, Harley (her original dogs), along with the many other success stories who soon followed. These dogs worked their asses off. They were finally living up to their full potential and living the life they were meant to have. They would never spend another day in a shelter, abusive home, or wondering the streets. They instead would be recognized as heroes throughout the world. These dogs were trained to find living victims who were trapped in the rubbish of disasters. They spent countless hours learning hand signals and whistle blows from their handlers. They learned to bark alert when they found someone. They learned how to save people the way SDF saved them.

I love reading dog books, especially working dog books.
It's amazing what these animals are capable of and the amount of trust we put into them. In these tragic events, the dogs provided a service that would not have been possible for a human to do. But beyond that, they were a bright spot in these firefighters lives. They gave their all right there with men and women doing everything in their power to save a life.

Highly recommend this book to all dog lovers!!

Huge thank you to NetGalley and St. Martin's Press for a review copy!
Even bigger thanks to Wilma Melville for founding SDF and to Paul Lobo for writing her story!!
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In the spring of 1995, 61-year-old Wilma Melville, a retired physical education teacher and grandmother of six, found herself treading over blasted concrete, shattered glass, and charred paper confetti. She and her specially trained and FEMA-certified black Labrador Murphy were navigating through the debris field surrounding the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Just days before, the Murrah building had been a bustling federal office building—the workplace of about 550 people, some of whom dropped their children off at America’s Kids, a daycare center in the building, before reporting to work.

In a hideous act of domestic terrorism, the building had been bombed and Melville and Murphy were one of a handful of FEMA-certified search and rescue canine teams deployed to recover victims.

They moved through the rubble searching for survivors, but sadly, they only found cadavers. The blast had injured more than 680 people and killed 168, including 19 children under the age of six.

A challenging mission

Search and rescue is a difficult and grueling task made more so when the team fails to find any survivors.

As Melville made her way back to the control center, a distraught man waved a photo in front of her. It was his wife. She had worked in the building. Had Melville seen her?

Answering the man’s simple question was gut-wrenching. Melville felt his pain and it stuck with her for days nudging her to find a way to increase the odds of delivering good news to the next person looking for a loved one lost in a disaster.

“I returned home determined that, out of that unfathomable tragedy, some good must come,” says Melville.

“At the time, there were only 15 advanced certified canine search and rescue teams in the U.S. It was clear to me that many more were needed. I knew someone had to make it happen and realized that this someone was…me.”

Melville devised a plan. To ensure that future survivors would have better odds of being located quickly, she decided to establish a nonprofit foundation to train more teams. As a way of honoring the victims of Oklahoma City, Melville’s goal was to train 168 new teams.

With no prior training in running a business, operating a nonprofit, or even training search and rescue canines beyond the program she and Murphy had gone through, Melville started the Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to train canine search and rescue teams.

Revolutionized training

From the start, Melville knew that to succeed, she would have to revolutionize the entire process.

Before she started SDF, Melville says, “it took three to five years to train for certification—to say nothing of the owner spending upwards of $15,000 on training equipment, travel, veterinary care, training group fees, and the purchase of a dog from proven working lines.”

Without a lot of capital behind her she couldn’t afford to purchase well-bred animals. She would have to find strays and rescues with potential, then train them faster than the training program that existed at the time.

To reduce training time for human handlers, she paired her dogs with firefighters who already had disaster experience. She was able to get teams trained and certified in just 18 months. Today, some teams achieve that goal in just five months.

It was rough going for a while. SDF sought financial contributions, but at times, especially early on, Melville dipped into her own bank account to keep the project going.

As SDF teams were deployed to devastating disasters like the 9/11 World Trade Center Attack and Hurricane Katrina, the foundation gained some notoriety when news organizations featured profiles of them. After that, the financial situation eased as when the American public showed their support and gratitude for SDF by sending in contributions allowing Melville’s program to grow and thrive.

Looking back and looking forward

Melville, along with author Paul Lobo, details how she started SDF from nothing in Hero Dogs: How a Pack of Rescues, Rejects, and Strays Became America’s Greatest Disaster Search Partners (St. Martin’s Press, 2019). The book also gives fascinating accounts of what it was like for SDF teams deployed to the World Trade Center and other disasters.

Since it started, SDF has trained more than 130 canine disaster search teams and currently has 67 active teams. Among the highlights of their service is when they found 12 survivors buried beneath the rubble in the aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti.

In 2017, SDF opened its National Training Center in Santa Paula, Calif. It is the first state-of-the-art facility in the country solely dedicated to the training of canine disaster search teams.

She has accomplished so much, but for Melville the work continues. “We will produce the best canine disaster search teams this country has ever seen,” she says. “Not because we want to, but because we have to.”

For more information or to make a donation, visit searchdogfoundation.org.
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I find books about service dogs so fascinating not just because of the dedication it takes for the training of the dogs and their handlers but how smart and hard working the dogs themselves are.  Hours and hours of training goes into making a successful service dog team. This book is about the author, Wilma and her vision of starting a canine search and rescue organization. Back in 1995, when the bombing of Oklahoma City, OK happened, Wilma was shocked at the lack of dog search and rescue teams available to search for survivors in the rubble. She made a vow, at 61 years old, to start an organization and train 168 dog/handler teams, one for each victim of the Oklahoma City bombing.  

The books details how Wilma chose her dogs, trainers, and handlers.  I loved how she chose dogs from shelters. One was even an hour away from being euthanized.  If a dog didn’t work out for training, she vowed that it would never see another shelter in its life.   

It was amazing to read how these dogs can use their noses and ears to find survivors of natural disasters and terrorist attacks.  The first event was the attack on the World Trade Center. Several of her dog teams went to search for survivors in an unimaginable amount of rubble and destruction.   Other sad events are featured as well such as Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti. It is always heart-warming to read how these dogs that give it their all are still able to provide comfort in times of need.  Here is an example from 9/11.

“The NYFD firefighter approached her.  His face was powdered black with soot and striped with lines of sweat.  He asked Debra if he could bet her dog. Debra said of course. Without another word, the firefighter slumped down next to Abby (the dog), buried his face in her black fur, and wept.  Young Abby sat with the firefighter, wagging her tail and happy to sit as long as needed. After a while the firefighter raised his head and composed himself. To completely get over what he was going through would take a lifetime, but he did look a little better.  ‘That’s exactly what I needed’, he said and returned to work.”

I was inspired by the author, who at 61 years old started something new and so worthwhile.  The book introduces us to many wonderful dogs and takes us through their training which was so interesting.  I hope people read this book and realize how important dogs are to our society, even ones that are getting second and third chances from shelters.  If you love dogs or are curious how service dogs are trained, then I highly recommend you read this book.
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After participating in the Oklahoma City bombing rescue effort, Wilma Melville was so moved that she devoted her life to developing a crack-shot team of search and rescue dogs. Her life’s work is the subject of the book Hero Dogs.

Before beginning this book, I had no idea how complex was the world of search and rescue dogs. Finding that perfect dog that happily combines all requirements–strength, agility, dedication, drive, scent skills, and emotional connection–was the first, and perhaps, most difficult step. Wilma Melville set herself the daunting task of finding not only that perfect dog but also 168 hero dogs, one for every fatality in Oklahoma City.

The monumental scope of the task surprised me. I thought you’d just grab some smart, nice dogs and train ’em. Wrong.

First, the search and rescue organizations of the time were not up to the task. Who knew search dog organizations were plagued with in-fighting and bad-mouthing? Melville formed her own organization and completely revamped the training and selection of both dogs and handlers. One factoid I found fascinating is that dogs lack natural proprioception. Never heard of it? I hadn’t either. Proprioception is the knowledge of the location of your limbs. (Human rock climbers are good at proprioception, for instance.) The surfaces of disaster sites that dogs must navigate are so precarious–twisted I beams, shifting debris piles, falling objects–that the dogs had to acquire that non-innate skill so that they could know where each limb was at all times.

What I mostly loved about this story is Melville’s interest in rejected dogs. Her hero dogs were misfits, rejected even by their shelters, often hours away from being killed. What a happy accident that the very dogs unsuited for the structured existence of family life were perfect for rescue work. And even dogs who failed Melville’s search and rescue certification process found a purpose. I especially got a kick out of Zorro who stopped to smell the roses. Literally. Not a workable trait when minutes count in the search for life, but even Zorro found a home. He works in a botanical research facility where he detects threatened flora and fauna.

The message I took from this book, from the examples of rejected dogs, is that we all have a purpose. We just have to find it. Melville and her dogs certainly found theirs.

I recommend Hero Dogs to dog lovers, to people interested in the complex behind-the-scenes world of rescue dogs and handlers. Those who love reading novels by Robert Crais (dog: Maggie), Barbara Nickless (dog: Clyde), and Margaret Mizushima (dog: Robo) will appreciate the fictional worlds of search and rescue dogs even more after reading Hero Dogs. I know I do.

I received a copy of Hero Dogs from the publisher via Netgalley.
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Hero Dogs by Wilma Melville is an extraordinary book of resilience, a vision without borders, and achieving the impossible with those consider to be useless. It is a book that tells it like it is, not glorifying any person but highlighting the dogs who were given a chance to become true heroes. Very readable.

A book for dog lovers anywhere, but also one that shines a light on a great part of the history of this country. Must read.
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I absolutely adored this book. It was amazing to read behind the scenes. We always see the rescue dogs on television during the worst disasters. It was really interesting to learn some of their stories. What an amazing woman Wilma is. Her organization that trains and uses rescue dogs was truly heartwarming and the story very informative. .
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In full disclosure, I was awarded this book from the publisher through Net Galley. I really appreciated and enjoyed this book. I learned alot about the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) in this book and it was very informational. There is no question asked that this is the reminder on why dogs are amazing and should be valued parts of our lives
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Tragedy can crush a spirit or it can cause great people to become even more so. I'm a sucker for a great animal story and who doesn't love the underdog (literally) story? This book brought to life the true dedication and iron will of WIlma Melville who, after seeing the need for more well-trained search dogs following the Oklahoma City bombing, decided there was a better way to train great dogs, faster, all while saving unwanted dogs from a tragic end. In founding the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF), her initial goal was to train one dog for every life lost in Oklahoma City that day (168). This book shares her story along with the stories of the amazing rescued-turned-rescuer dogs and a bit about some of the handlers as well. Well-written with a lot of heart, Hero Dogs is a great fit for any dog lover!

Thank you to St. Martin's Press and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this book in exchange for my honest review.
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When Wilma Melville established the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation she had a goal.  She wanted to help train dogs for Urban Search and Rescue operations.  But she wanted to do it more effectively and efficiently than was currently being done.  At the time, most of the organizations currently doing such training weren't really interested in working with her as they thought they knew what they were doing, even though the results said otherwise.  Despite such opposition, Wilma was determined and with the help of a few volunteers and a talented dog trainer, she adopted her first three dogs, Ana, Dusty, and Harley.  In less than a year, these dogs that had been rejected became skilled search dogs with the help of their firefighter handlers.  They would go on to prove it after 9/11.  As the years went by other rescued dogs were trained and sent on missions.  The SDF (Search Dog Foundation) had found a formula that worked and despite the challenges that inevitably arose successfully trained over 200 dogs and handlers for USAR.  Lobo tells the tale through the eyes of Wilma based on many hours of interviews and interactions giving the story an immediacy that is quite compelling.  The stories of the dogs and their handlers are fascinating and amazing.  Reading about the searches said dogs and handlers conducted related to 9/11, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and the Haitian earthquake was eye-opening.  It's amazing to me the sacrifices and immense effort these firefighters and dogs made and continue to make to find even one survivor.  The value found in these seemingly worthless dogs is a testament to Wilma's determination and willingness to look beyond the obvious.
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Finally, finally, a book that turns rescue dogs into heroes, and shines a massive spotlight on the thousands of intelligent, loyal, courageous and huge-hearted dogs in kennels right now!

It was Wilma Melville's dream to build up a team of search and rescue dogs trained to search for bodies in disaster sites throughout America. With Monty, her own Search and Rescue (SAR)  dog by her side, she started the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation. Her aim was to train 168 dogs, one for every victim of the Oklahoma City bombing.

There was certainly a huge amount of risk looking for search dog candidates amongst homeless dogs. Many had already suffered terrible physical and mental hardships. However, Wilma taught herself to become an expert at spotting the signs of the type of dog she needed in her team. As well as speed, stamina, and intelligence the dogs needed to have an exceptional nose and an instinct to find, as well as smell, a scent trail. Even after intensive training, Wilma didn't know for sure if the dog could handle a disaster situation until he was actually in one.

Once the dogs had been trained to an advanced level, coping with rubble and uneven surfaces, the search began to find handlers. Wilma wanted the dogs to be handled by firefighters but she was adamant that the right match was found. She wanted the dog and the handler to be exact mirrors of each other.

I've read many books featuring dogs but the way that Wilma describes a dog is on such a higher level and it just shows how much she adores these four-legged creatures.

Here is what she says about Golden Retriever Ana.

A picturesque golden, Ana was the colour of butterscotch in the sunshine. She had a narrow face with elegant curves. Her small ears fell evenly and lacked the wonky Dumbo the Elephant look of some puppies. Her hair seemed to lie in an orderly fashion like she had just been groomed. Proud in an almost regal way. she gave the impression that she sat where she wanted, not where someone told her to. Painted as a portrait, Ana would have seemed to have it all. In the flesh, she was beyond control.

Wilma then goes on to say that Ana had been surrendered because of her tendencies to jump high fences, destroy flower beds, even jump off a cliff to retrieve a ball and then climb up it again. It was recognised that if Ana's energy was properly channeled she could excel at search and rescue.

Ana went on to be the leading SAR dog to search for bodies amongst the rubble of the Twin Towers.

A promise that Wilma made to herself was that if she took a dog out of rescue to train. but the dog was unsuitable, he would never be returned to rescue. The dogs are trained with gentleness and kindness, they are checked over by vets when returning from a disaster site and washed by their handler.

Although the book is about Hero Dogs, it goes without saying that the amazing dedication of the volunteers and firefighters should be highly applauded. There were parts of the book which broke me emotionally but others where the tears were of pure joy. I know it made me appreciate the little rescue dog sitting by my side. In fact, it made me incredibly thankful to have these wonderful creatures in my life.

This book is emotional, inspiring and heartwrenching. At times some of the disaster scenes were extremely harrowing but it shows the honesty of the author and the bravery of the dogs.

A must read for all dog lovers, but keep the tissues handy.

Thank you Net Galley for the advance copy.
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Awesome, awesome book!! I can not recommend this book enough!!!! This is a must read book for any dog or animal lover out there!
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Hero Dogs tells the story of Wilma who founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) and all of the trials and tribulations she went through to get this going. The stories on the animals and their resilience is amazing!
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Thank you to St Martin's Press and NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I Loved this book!!!  Who can resist a good book that one involves dogs and two is about a women who wants to revise the Search dog training process to make it faster with better trained dogs and handlers to help rescue as many people as possible. Her concept of no bad dogs but instead dogs that haven't found their true purpose is remarkable. Dogs are not always suited to be the family pet but with direction and training can be transformed into dogs with  valuable job potential. Her stories of dogs rescued from shelters and given lives with meaning is heartwarming and even if they turned out not to be appropriate search dogs, she committed to finding them forever homes.
This is a must read for all animal lovers or anyone that is interested in learning more about the life and training of search and rescue dogs.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the chance to read this book!

I absolutely adored this book, the dogs, Wilma and everything her organization stands for and represents. Like many others, I've seen footage of dogs searching for survivors and heard media reports, but to get the full story behind an organization that not only trains these dogs, but uses primarily rescues to get the job done was fantastic. This was the dog story I didn't know I needed until I read it!

If you love dog stories, add this to your to-read for January! What a lovely book :)
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I enjoyed this story of how the "hero dogs" really Search and Rescue Dogs came to be. There are some horribly sad sections and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone easily traumatized. It balances out with the dogs and their antics. I've never read about how the dogs are trained and it is impressive. These aren't purebreds or anything. The dogs provide an important service and save so many human lives and I'm glad I know a bit more about them now.
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There is no mistaking the fact that dogs can accomplish amazing things.  Case in point, the dogs in this book.  Not only were they not pure bred dogs with papers...they were rescues saved from the needle and worse by Wilma and her volunteers.  It took the bombing of Oklahoma City to make Wilma Melville see the urgent need for specialized search and rescue dogs to search where people could not.  9-11 was the first proving ground.  Please read the amazing story here.
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What a brilliant book. It was so interesting reading about how the SDF started off as a lady's vow, to what it is now. It's easy to describe a single dog based on usual dog behaviour, but what is difficult is to have as many dogs as this book features and yet still make them all so individual to the reader. This shows to me that Wilma loves each and every dog that has gone through her programme and they mean so much more to her than simply the means to an end to complete her vow.

There are many dogs from this book that will stay with me. I definitely feel like I would have loved to have Dusty as my very own dog.

The only thing that would complete this book more for me is a list of all dogs featured in the programme from the start until now. I have seen this featured on the website, but would love this in the book too.
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Hero Dogs is the book for animal loves around the world. I do not like reading about Animals dying so when I decided to review this book I knew what I would be reading.

I loved reading the amazing stories of animals that help in tragedies from around the United States.  How they are just as much hero's as the people who sacrificed their own lives.

I learned so much from the talent people who trained almost a majority of recuse animals to find the living as well as the dead.



This is a must read book for anyone interested in training animals or service animals.  Readers will get amazing insight into the level of training a service dog goes though as well as the dogs and trainers go though to become a Search and Rescue dogs.



Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for the advance copy of Wilma Melville and Paul Lobo Hero Dogs.
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