Courtesy Darryl Wilkerson and Branden Hart
Ground Zero K9 dog Laya is seen here with Oklahoma Task Force member Andrew McCann.

Chickasaw Nation Helps Fund K9 Search and Rescue Training Facility

Brian Daffron

Weather in Oklahoma is a mix of beauty and terror. Spring and winter storms can create works of natural beauty with dazzling lightning and crystal-like ice. However, spring’s tornadoes and winter’s layered sheets of sleet can destroy homes, causing family members to be buried in rubble. The odds of survival could depend on a trained SAR (search and rescue) dog being on the scene.

In Oklahoma, there are now 11 trained SAR dogs. Unfortunately, the state needs 36 to adequately meet the needs of first responders.

The Chickasaw Nation, in partnership with former University of Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer and his wife, Becky, are helping to fund Ground Zero K9. Centrally located in Tuttle, Oklahoma, the 120-acre center will train SAR dogs to be, in Coach Switzer’s terms, “Heisman trophy winners.” The initiative was unveiled November 3 at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, the site of the 1995 Murrah Federal Building bombing that killed 168 people.

According to Bill Lance, the Chickasaw Nation Secretary of Commerce, the nation’s partnership with the Switzer family is an extension of a “long-standing relationship.”

“We believe this project presents a significant opportunity to centrally locate search and rescue operations within this region,” said Lance, “and that is one reason the [Chickasaw] Nation donated to the K9 Foundation. This donation will provide for the purchase and training of several search and rescue dogs.”

The projected completion date for the project is sometime in 2019, with plans still being finalized with architects and building contractors. According to Becky Switzer, the project cost will be $20 million, with a $1 million goal through online donations. However, the foundation is not waiting until then to train these dogs.

“Our current funds will cover ten certified search and rescue dogs,” Becky Switzer told ICTMN. “We will continue our efforts to raise capital so as not to interrupt the pipeline we have in place.”

The current focus of the training will be centered specifically on search and rescue of living “finds,” she said, and that training to find deceased human remains “will come once we have the search and rescue [facility] up and running.”

Becky said they start training the dogs at eight days old when “environmental noises are created to build nerve strength.”

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