Early Thursday, a former San Luis Obispo County resident braved the wreckage of Wednesday’s fertilizer plant explosion near Waco, Texas, to help in the recovery effort.
His positive attitude, friendly way with people and abundance of energy were among the skills that got him the job. Also helpful: his loud bark.
Hayden, a black-coated retriever mix that came to San Luis Obispo County Animal Services as a stray in 2008, has left his days as a drifter and is now happily helping people as a rescue dog.
“Hayden’s story is a wonderful example of how a shelter dog is not only changing lives … he is saving them,” according to a statement from Woods Humane Society in San Luis Obispo, where he once lived.
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Hayden’s journey started in 2009, when he was transferred from the county shelter to Woods and worked with volunteers who readied him for the local rescue organization’s adoption program. He was suspected as being abused by an unknown owner and then abandoned, according to the group, but his heartbreaking past never overshadowed his happy demeanor.
“Puts a chill down my neck every time I tell his story … I am one of the few staff members out here who still remembers him from his days as a Woods dog,” said Steve Kragenbrink, the organization’s community programs director.
Local volunteers soon identified Hayden as having search dog potential and contacted the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which adopted the brown-eyed pooch in April 2009, officials said.
Hayden was then placed with retired police Officer Mike Hargrove, who works in a certified search-and-rescue organization in Texas. As a search dog, Hayden lives and trains with Hargrove as his first responder partner.
According to The Associated Press, the fertilizer plant explosion in the small Central Texas farming community of West, about 20 miles north of Waco, left at least 14 people dead and more than 200 injured.
The K9 search teams were deployed to the area Wednesday night. Their task is to scout buildings destroyed or damaged by the explosion and to find people trapped in the wreckage, according to Woods.
“Early this morning, Mike Hargrove and Hayden searched the ground floor of a severely damaged apartment building while (another responder and search dog) cleared over two dozen homes. Mike and Hayden searched several houses as well,” according to a message Woods received from Texas. “Neither dog alerted (to finding a person) but they remained vigilant and focused during the search period.”
The teams are currently taking refuge from a severe weather front passing through the region, organizers said.
Watch Hayden the dog on TV
Hayden and Hargrove will be featured in an episode of PBS' “Shelter Me” set to air at 7 p.m. April 28, organizers said.
A trailer for the television series features several dogs, including a cheerful, tail-wagging Hayden sporting a neon orange rescue dog vest and taking commands from Hargrove as he practices some moves.