NORMAN — It’s not every day that someone who has been rescued is able to return the favor, but several dogs on Oklahoma Task Force 1’s search and rescue units get that chance every time they receive a call for help.
Nine Oklahoma K9 teams consist of a task force member, usually a firefighter, and a trained search and rescue (SAR) canine from the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (NDSDF).
And it was all paws on deck after the May 20 tornado that tore through Moore as 28 total K9 teams from six states responded, including eight teams from Oklahoma City and Tulsa. SAR K9 units from as far away as Lincoln, Neb., joined the contingency in the search for survivors, including lost children at Plaza Towers and Briarwood Elementary schools.
Twenty minutes after the tornado struck, Handler Dane Yaw and his partner, Salsa, were in Moore. They and one other K9 unit were tasked with clearing Briarwood Elementary. At a briefing, they learned that three Briarwood students were unaccounted for and Yaw’s niece, Landry, was one of them.
“As we got farther and farther through the school, and we were running out of real estate and the dogs hadn’t indicated (they found anyone), we knew what the end game was,” Yaw said. “Usually you’re like, ‘Oh, I hope my dog barks,’ but this time I was, like, ‘Dear Lord, bark!’ because I knew if she didn’t bark, it was not a good outcome.”
It took the two K9 units less than an hour to determine that no one was trapped alive in the rubble at Briarwood.
Fortunately, shortly after finishing the search, Yaw’s wife sent him a text to say they had found his niece. Her grandparents had picked her up from the evacuation center just after the tornado hit, and she was safe.