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Day in the Work Life: A dog’s tale

Marketplace Staff Mar 2, 2007

This is Marketplace Money from American Public Media. I’m Tess Vigeland. For a while there, it was a warm winter. Then February happened. And with the bitter cold and storms came major avalanches. Last week in Austria, three skiers were buried in snow, one died. This week in the Himalayas, thousands had to be airlifted to safety. In this kind of disaster, the difference between life and death can be a dog. On today’s A Day in the Work Life, we meet a New Hampshire rescue worker and her canine partner.

MICHELLE ELDRIDGE: My name is Michelle Eldridge. I am an animal trainer. And we are at Black Mountain ski area in Jackson, New Hampshire. I am a volunteer patroller. And I patrol with my search dog. My search dog is Stennis. And Stennis is a Hurricane Katrina survivor. When we were down there searching for people with my retired search dog, we found him. No, he’s not a Chihuahua. We believe he’s Basenji and Jack Russell. Actually, I think he’s perfect for a disaster work because he can crawl into anything. He can climb on anything. He’s like part dog, part cat and part monkey. He can go anywhere. It’s amazing. Dogs know how to find things with their nose, naturally.

So he’s learning that when he finds a human, the scent of a human, he has to bark at that spot to tell me that that’s where the person is. He knows how to find people really well. But he’s still perfecting his loud bark. Good boy, Stennis. Good boy. Good boy, that’s it, come up. Good boy, Stennis. Good boy.

For the World Trade Center, Twin Towers on 9/11, I was there with my dog for the first week, looking for survivors in the rubble. And our–at that first week was, I don’t know, a lot of people ask me how could you have done it? It must have been so horrible. But really, for us, the first week, we really all thought we were gonna find survivors. So I was pretty upbeat. We were, you know, all the New York firefighters were there in a bucket brigade, working off of those three spots that the dogs had alerted on that day. And so it was just really gratifying to see that we were at least able to give them something to do.

And they ended up finding, unfortunately, they weren’t alive, but they did find people at those three spots. I usually get about $50 an hour. And I do private lessons, so I’d go to people’s houses and work with the family one-on-one with their dog. And they usually gonna pay me per visit, which is about $45 to $50, depending on my travel. Depending on how many clients I wanna book, you know, I can probably make $45,000, $50,000 a year. When I’m working with dogs and people, primarily, when I’m training dogs that aren’t mine, I’m training the owners. And the worst part is seeing how an owner can ruin a dog. And, you know, how they’ll complain about the dog, or blame the dog. And it’s not the dog’s fault, you know? Dogs behave the way they do because of the humans they’re with.

And, so I guess sometimes I can get frustrated with the people, you know, how they’ll get rid of a dog, or put a dog in a shelter, or abuse a dog and cause problems. I could never see a person again and be fine. But if it’s only I could never see an animal again, I would not be happy with that.

VIGELAND: A Day in the Work Life was reported by Ashley Ahern.

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