The California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) is a volunteer search and rescue (SAR) dog unit, on call 24 hours a day to assist law enforcement, emergency response and other official agencies.
The first requirement is that you be 18 or older to join CARDA. If you are younger, you might consider joining California Explorer Search and Rescue (Cal-ESAR). We require that you train with us as a pre-apprentice on a regular basis for approximately six months. CARDA personnel will be evaluating your physical status, interest, and commitment, your dog's temperament and progress in training. During this time you will have an opportunity to work with CARDA handlers and get to know them. They will be helping in the initial training of you and your dog as a search team. After this initial pre-apprentice period you may apply for apprentice membership. To become an apprentice, you will need to be sponsored by two active mission ready handlers, who will accept the responsibility of helping you become a mission ready team. As a pre-apprentice you will be covered by workers' compensation insurance only during official CARDA training.
We have found that many breeds of dogs are capable of doing SAR work, although most are from the working, herding, sporting, or hound groups. Dogs at the extreme ends of the size range, i.e., very small or very large, are probably not well suited for this work. The dog does not have to be a purebred dog. One advantage of a pedigreed dog, however, is being able to look at the parents temperament and working ability.
No. You may train an older dog for SAR, however, one of the advantages of training a puppy is that it will most likely have a longer working career.
You should count on about 2 years to train your dog and gain the skills you both need to become Mission Ready.
You must have current CPR for the Professional Rescuer and Emergency Medical Response cards from the American Red Cross or equivalent. You have to become proficient in use of map and compass, GPS, and radio communications. You must learn wilderness survival skills and search and rescue theory. You must also acquire mantracking, ropes, low angle rescue, patient/litter transport, and helicopter safety skills.
The training your dog receives will be somewhat dependent on whether it specializes as an area search dog or a trailing dog, but all dogs must be well socialized and obedience trained. They also need agility training so they can safely negotiate obstacles in the wilderness and disaster rubble. The dog must be able to swim.
We can help you train your dog and will provide some of the skills training that you will need, but some of the training you must get on your own. American Red Cross has training for CPR and Emergency Medical Response. The Sierra Club has a very good basic mountaineering course. Many backpacking stores and community colleges offer courses in map, compass and backpacking.
Yes. Expect to train 2-3 times a week with your local CARDA training group. When you and your dog are certified Mission Ready you will still be training on a regular basis and, in addition, can expect phone calls in the middle of the night to call you out on searches.
The Trailing Dog Team Mission Ready Test, is 1 to 1 1/2 miles long, 18 - 24 hours old, and the dog must find the person in four hours. To become a Mission Ready Area Search Dog Team the team must first pass a Preliminary Evaluation which is a 40-acre test. The dog must find one, well hidden person in two hours. The Mission Ready Area Search Dog Team Test is 100-120 acres, the dog must find the 1-3 well hidden people in four hours. Both trailing and area dog search teams must recertify every two years. The teams may also become certified in Avalanche, Cadaver, Water Search, and Disaster.
Yes. We are all volunteer. We buy our own uniforms and equipment and pay for our gas. Travel to and from training and searches can run over 10,000 miles a year. If you do not have backpacking equipment you will need to purchase this equipment before you are mission ready. The range is from $2000 to $4000 in the first two years. When mission ready we are expected to respond to a search equipped to be self-sufficient in the field for 3 days. Here is a conservative, estimated list of expenses for the first year.