Dog raised in Vancouver saving lives in Haiti

By Tom Vogt, Columbian Science, Military & History Reporter

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A search dog raised by a Vancouver family has been saving lives during the Haitian relief effort. Cadillac is part of a search team that has helped rescue several people from the rubble of quake-shattered buildings in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

The black Labrador was raised by Vancouver’s Debbie Combs and her family, as part of a program to help train guide dogs for the blind.

But Cadillac was a little too frisky for guide-dog duty, Combs said, so he took another career path.

Now the black Lab and handler Jasmine Segura are part of a six-dog team dispatched to Haiti by Los Angeles County. They’re with the county fire department’s urban search and rescue task force.

Earlier this week, a Los Angeles Daily News writer described one of the saves, when the dogs guided rescuers to three women buried under the rubble of what had been a three-story building.

Cadillac and two canine teammates found sisters, age 19 and 20. The third woman was buried deeper in the rubble, still lying in bed.

“She was pinned to her mattress by the ceiling of her bedroom, just inches from crushing her,” reporter Dennis McCarthy wrote.

Rescuers dug the mattress out from underneath the woman so they could slide her out.

Combs was excited to hear about Cadillac’s progress since he spent some time with her family in 2007. Cadillac is one of several dogs who have been placed with her family by the Guide Dogs for the Blind program over the years.

“As a puppy-raising family, we take them to places where people normally go and dogs normally don’t go,” Combs said.

Combs and her family took Cadillac shopping, to restaurants and out for coffee. She also took him to work, at the Washington State School for the Blind.

Cadillac turned out to be quite, well — active — which is why he wound up with Combs and her family in 2007.

“We got him at 6 months from a family having problems raising such a high-spirited dog,” she said. Cadillac also spent part of the time with another dog raiser.

“He was entered into guide dog training, but he couldn’t focus on being a guide dog,” Combs said. “He was such a highly driven animal; he couldn’t sit under a desk.

“They dropped him from the program, but they have a list of other organizations,” she said.

Search Dog Foundation, a California organization, thought the lively Lab sounded like a prospect. It turned out to be a good fit, and he was matched with Segura, who was working as a firefighter-paramedic.