The six SDF-trained Search Teams who deployed to Nepal as part of Team USA are home now after a long, challenging 18-day mission. Now that they’ve had time to rest and recuperate, we wanted to share their reflections with our family of supporters who made this possible.

During the deployment, the teams helped rescue a teenage boy buried beneath the wreckage, and “cleared” scores of buildings, giving closure to families and letting rescue crews know they could move on to other areas.

Our Search Teams have been deployed 126 times, including Haiti, Japan, and now Nepal. With each deployment, the handlers bring back crucial lessons to share that will inform future rescue operations here at home, and around the world. We’re so proud of TEAM USA, and know that you join us in thanking these heroes – both two and four-legged!  

Deployment Summary:

On Saturday, April 25, Nepal was hit with a 7.8 magnitude earthquake that killed 8,604 people and destroyed 488,789 homes. Nepal asked the U.S. for help, and by the next day, America’s

two international Task Forces, Virginia TF-1 based in Fairfax (USA-1) and California TF-2 (USA-2) based in Los Angeles, were called into action.

Each Task Force was composed of 57 rescue personnel, including paramedics, structural engineers, logistics experts…and Canine Search Teams. The L.A. contingent included six SDF-trained Search Teams. By Sunday evening, the handlers and their dogs were on a military Air Force C-17 plane bound for Kathmandu. By Tuesday, the teams were on the ground searching for survivors.

A 7.3 magnitude aftershock struck on May 12th, just as USA-2 was packing up for the trip home. Many of the 58 international Task Forces deployed to Nepal had already returned home. Luckily, the U.S. teams were still in country, and able to jump back into rescue mode, using the dogs to search rubble sites and giving medical care to the injured.

The skill of the canines was critical in “clearing” the piles – confirming no survivors were left behind in the wreckage. They performed dozens of “hasty” (generalized) searches to determine whether there was any live human scent coming up from the rubble. If scent was detected, a more detailed search would have been conducted to pinpoint the location of the survivor so rescuers would know exactly where to use their equipment and resources to extricate the victim. Throughout the operation they worked with Nepali police, military and paramedics to coordinate the search operation, identify the search sectors, and direct resources where they were needed most.

Andy Olvera:

“When you sit back and really reflect on the magnitude of what happened, it really puts into perspective the international teamwork and coming together of humankind to deal with this tragedy. The dogs there were a great comfort to everyone on the Task Force and others affected by the disaster. Being away from home is a little easier when you have a dog’s wagging tail and belly to rub throughout the deployment.”

Jason Vasquez: 


“For Ripley to travel halfway around the world and work the same as he would as if we were in a training exercise here at home was really amazing. For me, the deployment to Nepal really emphasized the need for our teams to be constantly challenged and train at varying sites.”


On April 30, while Ripley was searching, a radio dispatch let the teams know a victim’s voice had been heard beneath the wreckage. Andy, Jason and their teammates responded immediately, and also heard the voice calling out. U.S. and Nepali teams confirmed the location and pulled a 15-year-old boy out from under several collapsed floors. Pinned behind a crushed motorcycle, the boy had enough space to survive the collapse. Our teams gave him immediate medical care and he was taken by ambulance to the Israeli field hospital. The Search Teams and local people celebrated the rescue!


As the U.S. team began to demobilize and pack up for the second time, SDF received an offer from World Vets, a nonprofit based in Fargo, North Dakota, that had personnel deployed to Nepal. Their team examined all the Search Dogs and, after determining all dogs were healthy and happy, put the teams in touch with Dr. Baka Ram Thapa, a local Nepali veterinarian who provided health certificates to clear the way for the flight home.


Our teams returned home on May 24, exhausted but confident that they helped significantly in the rescue efforts. They were met by emotional family and friends who were proud of the work the teams had done, but relieved to have them home.

Ron, Pearl, and the folks

Eric and his baby girl

Gary and Tanker

Eric Gray:  

“Riley made my life easy in Nepal. Thanks to our six-year partnership, it was easy to know when he needed more time for searching, as he continued to move with purpose in and out of areas on the pile.  It was clear when he was completed with a task – he would pop up with a look of, ‘Where to next, Dad?  This pile is clear.’ I could not be more proud of what I saw in Riley and all of the dogs. They did their job with the same gusto we have come to expect, with the same level of detail we look for during countless hours of training. In the end, we were left without any doubt that the piles we all searched were clear and no live scent was detected.”

Thank you for helping to make this possible.
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