As part of the annual ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event, I interviewed Eric Darling, a California firefighter and the handler/partner of Ben, a search and rescue dog.
Ben and Eric are part of the Search Dog Foundation, an organization that pairs rescued dogs with firefighters.
From the SDF web site:
SDF recruits dogs from across the country that are rescued from abuse or abandonment. Typically these dogs demonstrate high energy, tenacity and boldness, making them ideal for search and rescue, but unsuitable for a family pet. After passing stringent screening and testing criteria, the dogs are then trained to harness that t high energy, drive and tenacity into life-saving skills.
SDF chooses the best possible partners for our dogs: firefighters and other first-responders. Why? Because these are the men and women professionally trained to handle the chaos, danger and trauma associated with disaster situations. Learn more
Please tell us more about your search and rescue work
Answer: My name is Eric Darling and I have been in the fire service for about 15 years and in Canine Search and Rescue for 12 years. I owe why I am involved to my wife. My wife is still very much involved with canine search and rescue and has a burning passion for helping them.
After 9/11 and my wife's involvement with the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, I joined her passion of wanting to be working with search canines. I started out with my first partner doing Wilderness Search and Rescue. Now I am with my wonderful partner Ben where we do Disaster Search and Rescue along with wilderness and missing people searches.
How old is Ben, and long have you worked with him?
Answer: Ben, who is my Live Find partner, is almost five. He has his birthday coming up in April. Ben is a Black American Field Lab and we were partnered in June of 2010 by the National Search Dog Foundation. We are currently on FEMA California Task Force 5 and 3 regional Task Forces in California. Ben is with me wherever I go, whether that be the fire department or vacation.
Ben is a vital part of our family and I am much honored to call him my partner. Not only is he a part of our family, but he also has his own Facebook page and You Tube page (See contact information at the end of this interview).
Ben's job not only is finding people, but Ben and I go to a lot of schools and talk to young children about what his job is. Ben really enjoys visiting with the children.
How many search and rescue missions have you and Ben been on?
Answer: Since Ben and I have been together we have been on 7 searches in the state of California. Some of the searches were missing hikers, elderly walk aways, and runaways. Even though Ben is a Disaster Search and Rescue Canine, he is also able to search in the wilderness and urban wide area searches.
Please tell us how this eye exam event helps with Ben's work and training
Answer: The eye exam plays a huge role in Ben's training and in the search itself. If he was not getting his eyes examined each year, I could in fact be endangering the people we are here to protect and find. Even though our dogs use their nose to find the people that aremissing, or trapped in a disaster or wilderness setting, their eyes enable them to do their job. Without proper vision Ben would have a very hard time climbing the aerial ladder on the fire truck to the 3rd story window of a building, and yes our dogs do climb ladders by themselves with no help from us.
Ben would have a difficult time transversing in thewilderness to try to locate the missing people. With the ACVO/Merial National Service Dog Eye Exam Event, I am ensuring that Ben is getting his eyes checked. If there are problems we can correct it now, instead of waiting for something to happen.
The exam is also a training, having our dogs know to trust us even though a very bright light is coming close to their face. One would not think visiting your veterinarian is training, but it is.
Just to know that a great program like ACVO and that local, board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists exist is a huge relief as a canine handler. Ben and I owe agreat deal to everyone involved with ACVO, and I am extremely grateful that they are giving us the tools to keep our partners safe.
Please share any photos or video links for readers who would like to see Ben in "action."
Answer: Here are 3 sites where you can view videos of Ben.
Thank you, Eric, for this informative interview about Ben and life as a Search and Rescue team. Best wishes for health and safety while helping others.