From stray dog to hero: Greta’s journey to search and rescue dog from stray dog to hero

Thanks to our proximity to Truckee Tahoe Airport, Greta’s jet-setting journey was a quick one.

TRUCKEE, Calif. – The Humane Society of Truckee-Tahoe has seen a lot of success stories over the years. But the story of Greta, the stray who became a hero, is something straight out of Hollywood. This transformation was made possible thanks to the collaborative efforts of: HSTT, San Francisco Animal Care & Control, Search Dog Foundation and the Truckee Tahoe Airport District. 

Greta’s journey began when she was brought to San Francisco Animal Care & Control as a stray. Her intense personality and need for a huge amount of mental and physical engagement caused her to decline quickly in the shelter environment. Not much is known about Greta’s past, but it was clear that her future was at risk. Fortunately, Greta’s life was forever changed after being transferred to HSTT.

Greta’s journey started with a temperament test at HSTT, a common practice for most animal rescue organizations. This exam includes introducing dogs to both strangers and other dogs, testing their behavior around toys and food and testing their behavior with physical handling. These tests are an essential tool for determining an appropriate placement for a dog. 

Greta showed she was incredibly smart and exhibited a “high drive.” Whether that drive was directed toward chasing balls or searching for treats, Greta had it. That type of hyper-focused drive can be challenging in a home without an experienced trainer, but can be perfectly suited for doing a job. So the HSTT team commenced a job search for Greta.

After Greta’sfirst month at SDF, her trainers said, “she loves to play tug and is learning to play collaboratively with her trainers.”

Liz Alstott, HSTT Foster and Shelter Volunteer Manager suspected Greta had what it takes to become a search and rescue dog. HSTT had previously worked with the Search Dog Foundation (SDF), a nonprofit that recruits and trains rescue dogs to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters. SDF looks for dogs with the “it-factor” – qualities they describe as “high-octane with an obsessive toy drive.” 

Greta started the journey to join the SDF, a process likened to auditioning for a Hollywood movie. After successfully passing the audition, she was invited to the SDF campus in Santa Paula, California. This was a critical invitation because dogs who make it to this point receive lifetime care and a job placement or a suitable home. This significant stage, much like a “call back,” meant Greta wouldn’t return to a shelter, as SDF commits to lifetime care for accepted dogs.

With HSTT’s fortunate proximity to Truckee Tahoe Airport and the help of volunteer pilots from the Moment Foundation, Greta was able to jet-set down to SoCal like a true Hollywood star. At the SDF campus, Greta’s abilities were put to the test through rigorous training and assessment processes. Her intelligence and high drive quickly caught the attention of her trainers, who described her as a “fun little package” infused with spice and sweetness. This marked the beginning of her intensive eight to ten months of training in the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) program.

On July 3, an update came through from Katie Brennan, SDF’s Canine Recruitment Outreach Manager, “Greta has moved up to the sophomore class and started searching on rubble. She moved quickly through the freshman barrel field progression and loves to hunt and tug with her victim. She can get distracted easily, so her training has emphasized building engagement and focus duration as she learns her obedience elements. She also recently joined our playgroups for the first time and loves playing with the other dogs.”

“Regardless of the position Greta ultimately assumes, HSTT would like to say thanks to the numerous organizations that made her journey possible,” says Dale Lawrence, HSTT Development & Marketing Director. “We also want to send a special tip of the cap to San Francisco Animal Care & Control, for the incredible work they do on behalf of dogs like Greta, to our partner, Truckee Animal Services, to HSTT’s Liz Alstott, who spent weeks working on Greta’s acceptance into SDF, to Truckee Tahoe Airport District, which generously supports HSTT’s Truckee Animal Shelter and provides our community the ability to conveniently jet-set at almost any time to almost anywhere, to Grant and Shawna at the Moment Foundation, who volunteered their time to fly Greta to her fresh start and of course the SDF for providing Greta, and other at-risk dogs, the chance to lead purposeful lives and become heroes.”

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