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Alex Cabrero

Injured cadaver search dogs not covered in FEMA grant

By Alex Cabrero | Posted - May 6th, 2014 @ 10:19pm

SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe the next time Pax charges off after a tennis ball his owner throws, he’ll go a little slower.

"He ran so fast, his legs kind of went out behind him, as he went into the ball, and I guess that's what did the damage to his spinal column,” said Liz Baumgartner, Pax's handler.

Pax, a border collie mix, had surgery Monday to repair a herniated disc.

He’s a search and rescue dog with Utah Task Force 1, a federally funded team, and spent about a week in April looking for victims in the Washington mudslide zone.

Pax injured his spine after a training mission this past weekend.

However, because Pax is a cadaver dog instead of a dog that looks for survivors, he's not covered under FEMA's grant for K9s.

“The training is exactly the same,” Baumgartner said.

“The only difference is we train for a live find with the live dogs, and we train for human remains with the other dogs, but everything else is the same."

That’s going to change next year, but for Pax and his handler, it will happen too late to help them now.

In fact, FEMA's grant only covers dogs while they are active with medical care, nutrition and other daily needs.

Once those dogs are retired, that help goes away, even though their post-active life is when help is needed the most.

“That help is vital to the dogs because it includes medical insurance and medical coverage,” said Bark Clark, a K9 search specialist with Utah Task Force 1.

“They get sore muscles and arthritis just like we do. During deployments, they get exposures to hazardous materials, to environmental conditions that take its toll, and very often, it doesn't manifest itself until later in life."

The care of the dogs transfers from FEMA to the dogs’ handlers.

Utah Task Force 1 currently has 10 certified dogs, old dogs and young dogs, which are cadaver dogs and live-find dogs.

Last month, two of its dogs were sent to the Washington mudslide zone.

The dogs have also been deployed to disasters such as the floods in Colorado, East Coast hurricanes and to search for victims in New York City after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

“We train, on average, 10-15 hours per week. That is every single week,” Clark said.

“The dogs have a long work life, and they’re pretty beat up by the time they retire,” said Nate Bogenschutz, the K9 coordinator for Utah Task Force 1.

"The closest thing I can compare them to is an ex-athlete, who is in top physical condition while they are working, but then they pay the price in the end for all the work they've done."

The dogs’ handlers pay the price, too, out of their own pocket when their dogs are retired.

"The surgery itself is about $3,000, and the physical therapy and whatever drugs have to be taken care of,"Baumgartner said. He's just hoping Pax will recover and be able to work again.

“We rely on public donations to help out these dogs in retirement,” Clark said.

Donations* can be made to Salt Lake Urban Search & Rescue and can be sent directly to Utah Task Force 1 at 6726 S. Navigator Drive, West Jordan, UT 84084. Team members ask that you include “K9 team donation” in the check’s memo line. Utah Task Force 1 is a registered 501 c(3) Non-profit and donations may be tax deductible.

For further information, you can contact Utah Task Force 1 at 801-963-2401.

* has not verified the accuracy of the information provided with respect to the account nor does assure that the monies deposited to the account will be applied for the benefit of the persons named as beneficiaries. If you are considering a deposit to the account you should consult your own advisors and otherwise proceed at your own risk.

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