ASPCA Dog of the Year: Pearl the shelter dog
turned search and rescue dog

Pearl: Search and Rescue Dog - ASPCA Dog of the Year

Pearl does it again.  From shelter dog to search and rescue dog, to heroine of the book, “A New Job for Pearl,” and now the ultimate award ASPCA Dog of the Year. The latter was announced this month. 

Captain Ron Horetski of the Los Angeles County Fire Department (Pearl’s handler) and Pearl will go to New York on November 10th to be honored for Pearl’s heroic deeds in saving earthquake victims in Haiti.  As this year’s recipient of the ASPCA Dog of the Year, Pearl is one of seven outstanding animals and people to receive honors for 2010 from the ASPCA at their Annual Humane Awards Luncheon sponsored by The Hartville Group.  

For Ron Horetski, the award ASPCA Dog of the Year is an honor, especially since this is the first search and rescue dog to receive this award.

Pearl’s Story As ASPCA Dog of the Year

The story of this 3-year-old Labrador Retriever began when her owner at the time surrendered her to a local shelter.  Soon after, volunteer Recruiter Penny Woodruff, while scouting for potential search dogs, discovered Pearl.  Evaluating her as a high-strung, toy-crazy dog, Penny found that Pearl possessed the qualities needed for a search and rescue dog. 

Pearl exhibited intense drive, determination, boldness, athleticism, and the ability to focus on any task given to her.  Soon after, Pearl was brought to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation based in Ojai, Ca, an organization dedicated to recruiting rescued dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to assist in finding people buried in the wreckage of disasters. 

In July of 2008, after completing her formal training, Pearl was partnered with her handler, Ron Horetski. The two underwent training together to attain FEMA Certification, which occurred in May of 2009.

Search and Rescue Dog Pearl

Ron and Pearl are part of the Los Angeles Country Task Force 2, one of two task forces, the other in Fairfax, VA, that cover local, national and international disasters.    Each task force is made up of eight canines and handlers.  Pearl is the youngest and only female of the canine teams in Los Angeles.

What Ron Horetski finds amazing about Pearl is how fast she moves through a pile of rubble and her love and enthusiasm for this work.  Pearl is very hyper, and as a search and rescue dog, she must be kept hyper.  As Ron states, “The more hyper she is, the better.”

Drawing of  Pearl -aspca 2010 dog of the year © Cori Solomon
Collage Cori Solomon Created of Pearl

Pearl’s heroic deeds, along with those of the other SDF canine teams, were not without challenges.  What most people do not know about the devastation in Haiti was the abundance of wild animals and dogs, creating distractions to the search and rescue canine teams.  They were also carriers of unwanted diseases. 

Before a search could take place, the area had to be cleared of all wild animals and dogs in order to let the canine teams off-lead to perform their given tasks.  Remarkably Pearl and her teammates could go 30-40 ft into an area searching and then come back out.  After each day’s work, the dogs would return to the embassy to be decontaminated and given a clean bill of health by a veterinarian in order to perform their job the next day.

For Ron and Pearl, there is constant training to keep Pearl alert, fast and hyper.  Training occurs once a week with the other canines of the Los Angeles County Fire Department.   Quite often, there is travel on a weekend for additional training or a simulation of a disaster. 

When Pearl sees Ron grab his vest and equipment, she knows it is time to do her job to help save others.

For Pearl, search and rescue is her job; for us becoming aware of the importance of both search and rescue and how dogs play such an important part of our lives is vital.

Pearl & Ron signing books 9-11-10 Laura Pollick
Pearl & Ron signing books 9-11-10. Photo Courtesy of Laura Pollick

A New Job For Pearl

As many of you already know, 2nd graders at Rancho Romero School in Alamo, CA played a part in making Pearl’s story known.  Through their book, “A New Job For Pearl,” they are hoping to raise money for the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation to train another search and rescue dog.  They have currently raised $7300 of the $10,000 needed to train another dog.   You can do your part by helping them achieve their goal by clicking here to purchase their book.

This article was one of three finalists to compete for a Maxwell Medallion Award in the 2011 Writing Competition sponsored by the Dog Writers Association of America.

Ron Horetski Allyn Lee and Pearl
Ron Horetski, Allyn Lee and ASPCA Dog of the Year Pearl at the Grand Opening of the SDF Training Center.

In 2020 Pearl passed to the Rainbow Bridge. She is missed by those she assisted as well as her handler Ron Horetski. Her name lives on as the ASPCA Dog of the year in 2010.

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