Rescue Dog Deployed to Help Search for Hurricane Harvey Victims: 'It's a Full Circle Moment'
A canine that was rescued from a roadside as a puppy is now working to save others in southern Texas following the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.
Rocket, a McNabb Herding dog, was a stray pup considered unadoptable several years ago due to his high energy and behavior at the Sacramento SPCA.
The SPCA has a strict no-kill policy and instead looks to give animals a second chance.
“We don’t have a euthanize list," Dawn Foster of the Sacramento SPCA told InsideEdition.com. "When a dog is deemed not to be ready for adoption, we start working with them. We’re just looking for other opportunities.”
Rocket was so obsessed with playing with one of his toys that they moved him to a different floor, where he was not available for adoption. Instead, the SPCA contacted the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to see if Rocket's high energy levels could be of help to them.
Denise Sanders, an SDF communications officer, says their team looks for dogs with super high energy and laser-like focus.
“When we get a call about a dog that may have it, we certainly jump on it,” Sanders told InsideEdition.com.
Andrea Berquist, an SDF recruiter, came to observe Rocket and decided to recruit him in hopes of getting him certified. Andrea worked with her husband, Chris, a canine handler with Urban Search and Rescue (USAR).
FEMA USAR dogs are trained to be sent all over the country and search for victims who are alive and possibly trapped during natural disasters.
Rocket did not meet the criteria his first time around at the SDF, but the Berquists were not about to give up on their four-legged pal. They took him back home and continued to work with him.
“After a couple of months, Andrea came and said, ‘We still think he has what it takes,’” Sanders said.
When he revisited the SDF for a second time, Rocket ultimately became a candidate, becoming FEMA USAR certified.
On August 6, 2014, he was paired with firefighter and K-9 handler Mike Stornetta of the Windsor Fire Protection District in Oakland.
“He’s literally Mike’s partner, he comes to work with him every day,” Cyndi Foreman of the Windsor Fire Prevention District told InsideEdition.com.
Foreman said the two are constantly training and now they are able to put their hard work to use.
"Rocket is absolutely amazing and is phenomenal at his job," Mike Stornetta told InsideEdition.com.
Rocket is now almost 5 years old and has made his way to Texas with Stornetta to find victims who may still be trapped inside their homes following the Category 4 storm.
“They have trained for almost four years together and to see them get to go and put their feet on the ground and be a part of something this massive is exactly what they’ve trained all these years to do,” Foreman said. “It’s a full circle moment... We’re very proud as an agency.”
The fire department shared a photo of the pair on Facebook with the caption, "Deployed to Texas as part of CA/Oakland Task Force 4 to assist with search and rescue missions in the hardest hit areas, this is the first K-9 team deployment in 12 years!”
The SDF also gave a shoutout to Andrea and the Sacramento SPCA.
“Without their efforts, Rocket would not have been able to transition from Rescued to Rescuer!” the Facebook post read.
“Not only are they saving lives, but you’re also saving the dog’s life in the process,” Sanders said. “It’s a two for one, it’s a win-win and it just doesn’t get any better.”
Andrea is very pleased to see how far Rocket has come.
"I’m overwhelmed to think of all of the people and time and effort that has gone into a stray dog that no one wanted. This is what it’s all about!” she said in SDF’s Facebook post.
Stornetta and Rocket are the only USAR team in Sonoma County and this is their second deployment. The first was more of a training situation when a small aircraft crashed in Santa Rosa in 2016.
The duo was called to check there were no missing people over about 10 acres of land.
“We’re so incredibly proud to have one of our alums on the ground in Houston to help those in need,” Foster, of the Sacramento SPCA, said. “Nobody gave up on him and he had all this energy and you have to channel that energy in a right way and this is what comes out of it, something really amazing.”