The California Rescue Dog Association, Inc. (CARDA) is a group of volunteers with specially trained dogs dedicated to assisting in the search for missing persons. CARDA teams are available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to respond to local, state, and federal law enforcement as well as other public service agency requests.
Established in 1976 and the largest search dog group in the nation, CARDA and its standards serve as a model for other search dog teams. CARDA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization and has 149 currently certified dog teams spread throughout the state.
In addition to mission-ready dog teams, there are also over 100 active members without a currently certified dog, 49 apprentices working towards mission-ready status, 26 pre-apprentice members, and 39 support members.
CARDA search teams have participated in thousands of searches over the years and have saved the taxpayers millions of dollars through the use of volunteer resources. CARDA members incur all costs including mileage, equipment, pagers, and dog expenses. CARDA provides a radio to each mission-ready team member for field use. Many CARDA members take time off work to participate in searches and training, drive thousands of miles a year, and spend 50 to 100 hours per month for training and searches. CARDA teams participate in 200 to 400 searches annually.
CARDA is the largest and most geographically dispersed of the three search dog groups in California that are direct resources of the State of California Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) Law Enforcement Division. CARDA provides search dog services to all public service agencies at no charge.
In many counties CARDA dog teams are also volunteer members of their local sheriff's department or other search and rescue groups for local responses. For instance, the bay area members have a close relationship with San Mateo County's Bay Area Mountain Rescue team (BAMRU).
- An overdue hiker or hunter in a wilderness area
- An Alzheimer patient who has wandered away
- A missing child
- A drowning victim in a lake
- An area where there may be human remains buried
- A victim buried in an avalanche
- A missing person where suicide or homicide is suspected
- Persons suspected of being in a collapsed structure
- To locate human remains after a fire
All CARDA dog handlers initially train a dog in one of two disciplines: trailing or area search.
Trailing dogs are trained to follow the path that a lost person has taken. Similar to traditional "tracking" dogs, these dogs require a properly preserved scent guide (i.e. a scent article like a sock or glove) and are not distracted by other people in the area. These dogs work on long leashes. Trailing dogs most frequently work trails that are hours or days old.
Area Search dogs are trained to find any human scent in the area. Area search dogs work most frequently off-leash and can cover large areas.
After certifying in one of these disciplines, teams may certify in any combination of the following specialties:
Cadaver dogs are trained in the location of human decomposition: tissue, blood, bones, etc.
Water search dogs trained to locate human decomposition which emanates from under the water. These dogs work along the shore and in boats to locate the scent as it rises through the water.
Avalanche dogs are trained to locate avalanche victims buried in snow.
Disaster dogs are trained to locate victims of many natural disasters that may be buried in rubble from a collapsed buildings. This type of dog is most often used after earthquakes.
CARDA's dog handlers represent a variety of backgrounds - full-time or reserve peace officers, paramedics, or retired or working professionals. All of CARDA's dog handlers have a common dedication to helping people and expertise in the use of search dogs.
All CARDA handlers have been with CARDA a minimum of one to two years; many have ten or more years of search and rescue experience.
Dog handlers are continually updating their skills and knowledge and most participate in 50 to 100 hours or more of training and missions per month. The minimum training requirements for all CARDA handlers include:
- Emergency Medical Responder (see Red Cross)
- Map, compass and GPS navigation
- Survival skills
- Radio communications
- Helicopter operations
- Crime scene preservation
- Scent movement
- Incident Command System
- Low-angle rescue and rope skills
- Litter/patient transport
Most handlers have additional training in areas such as canine first aid, technical rescue, and amateur radio.
CARDA search dogs are extremely socialized animals and are very different than most law enforcement patrol K-9s. Our dogs represent a wide variety of breeds and are tested extensively for temperament. CARDA dogs are exposed to a wide variety of conditions and are expected to function in almost any environment they are placed in. Minimum dog training requirements include socialization, obedience, agility, transport, and helicopter orientation. As a team, the dog and handler must pass a series of search tests to become "mission-ready". On average, it takes two years for a handler-dog team to become "mission-ready". Mission-ready teams must participate in on-going training throughout the year as well as periodic recertification.
CARDA dog teams have been used in numerous search situations including:
- High profile abduction cases
- Pacifica and Love Creek Mud Slides
- Mexico City Earthquake
- San Bruno pipeline explosion
- Boulder Brook Mud Slide
- San Francisco's Bay Industrial Park Explosion and Fire
- 29 Palms
- San Bernadino Train Derailment
- Loma Prieta Earthquake
- Oakland firestorm
- L.A. Riots
- Yosemite National Park Rock Slides / Missing Hikers
- Berkeley Homicides
- Coalinga Earthquake
- Northridge (Los Angeles) Earthquake
- Chemical Plant Explosion
- Oklahoma City Bombing - 5 dog teams participated
Some CARDA members are also part of the FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) Disaster program. These teams are used not only throughout the state of California, but also when other states and countries need disaster-trained rescue dogs.