Photo by Kristine Crawford
Kristine Crawford with Cheyenne and Dakota
On September 11, 2002, Kristine Crawford's Web site registered one million hits on the first anniversary of terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre. The Web site is a tribute to search-and-rescue dogs in music, words and pictures.
It was created by the Castro Valley woman, herself a handler with a search-and-rescue team of American pit bull terriers. Her dogs belie the savage, fighting beast image portrayed by advocates of Breed Specific Legislation across the world and are a timely reminder that dogs, whatever their breed, are not just wonderful companion animals they are extremely useful and vital helpmates to the human race.
The testimonial may be found on the website: www.forpitssake.org. This excellent site shows dogs searching through debris, standing atop rubble and comforting firefighters and disaster workers as they go about their grim, often gruesome tasks.
While all eyes were focused on New York City and the horror of the twin towers' collapse where, in fact, a Pit Bull was part of the SAR dog team involved in the search of the debris Castro Valleys own handlers and dog search-and-rescue teams were looking for Alzheimer's patients, kidnapped children and missing hikers, Crawford said.
"Life does go on," Crawford said Monday, while using hand signals and a gentle reminder of "sit" to instruct Dakota, a six-year-old, 60-pound pit bull.
Crawford is the only handler in California to have a pit bull as part of her search-and-rescue team. Dakota is her current partner; Cheyenne, 7, has retired and Tahoe, 3 is in training.
Crawford volunteers her time with four search-and-rescue organizations. She also is on a mission to educate people about pit bulls and dispel what she describes as "misconceptions" of what she believes is a misunderstood breed.
Enthusiastic, not menacing, is perhaps the best description for Dakota, who enjoys nothing more than bounding up to people, propping her front paws on their chests and giving them big, wet kisses.
Most people hear about search-and-rescue only when there's a natural disaster, Crawford said. Human and canine volunteers must be ready at a moment's notice when, for example, law enforcement or other government agencies ask for their help to find people who may be missing in an uninhabited area or in a large body of water.
Crawford describes pit bulls as the ideal search-and-rescue dogs.
"They are athletic, intelligent and driven," she explained. "They won't quit. They keep going and going when humans are exhausted."
Earlier this year, the duo went to Texas for 10 days to search for bodies and debris from the Columbia space shuttle explosion. NASA officials forbid Crawford and other searchers from disclosing what, if anything, they found.
However, Crawford, who spends at least 20 hours a week training her dogs for such excursions, recalls searching with Dakota for 12 to 15 hours a day in bone-chilling rain and cold. Yet, every morning, Dakota was raring to go out and search some more.
The pair would come back to a tent each night and huddle with other searchers around a propane stove, she reminisced.
One night, emotions were running high. A NASA worker came into the tent and buried his head in his hands. Dakota moved away from her place next to the stove and nuzzled her way into the semi-circle of the man's arms, Crawford said. Thanks to national media exposure, this side of Pit Bulls is becoming better known, Crawford added. And that, of course, can be no bad thing.
Lazy legislators and BSL advocates take note!
For information about For Pits' Sake: go online to www.forpitssake.org, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to: For Pits' Sake, P.O. Box 20790, Castro Valley 94546.