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Animal Trainers


Animals have been used for their skills for hundreds of years. The Saint Bernard has assisted in search-and-rescue missions in the Swiss Alps for more than 300 years. The German shepherd was used in Germany after World War I to guide blind veterans.

Dorothy Eustis, after visiting the program in Germany, founded the first American program for training guide dogs, called The Seeing Eye, in 1929. Basing the training program on the one that she visited in Potsdam, Eustis's program launched others that were modeled or developed from hers. The Seeing Eye still has one facility in the United States, in Morristown, New Jersey, but dozens of programs now exist for the training of guide dogs for the blind.

Other programs began to utilize the guide-dog training system to provide animal-based assistance to other disabled individuals. Most of these programs are less than 25 years old, and the majority of the programs were developed in the late 1980s and the 1990s. Programs now exist for a variety of animals over a range of disabilities for which an animal can be of assistance.

Programs to train search-and-rescue dogs in the United States are new, particularly compared to the programs in Europe. The Swiss program inspired search-and-rescue dog training programs in the United States in the 1970s. Various small programs were developed that relied on individuals with specific breeds of dogs to volunteer to train their pets for disaster or search operations. Programs such as the Black Paws for the Newfoundland breed offer certification that is accepted by law enforcement and search teams in selecting animals for search operations. After receiving state-recognized certification, dog and handler teams can choose to continue training for more intensive programs.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) established criteria and certification testing for disaster search dog and handler teams in 1991. They started with a few teams, funding established dog and dog-handler teams to undergo an intensive training program. FEMA-certified teams were used extensively in search-and-recovery operations in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001. Teams were also used to search for survivors after recent devastating tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri, and in Moore, Oklahoma.

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