Our Founder

Wilma Melville

wilma melville, founder, sdf

A retired physical education instructor and grandmother of six, Wilma was one of the FEMA-Certified Canine Search Specialists deployed to the Oklahoma City Bombing in 1995. After seeing the magnitude of the devastation at the scene, Wilma was convinced that America needed more highly trained teams to respond to disasters.

To achieve this, she founded the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF) to address this gap in our nation’s disaster response network. She partnered with renowned dog trainer Pluis Davern, and together they created a new methodology for training disaster Search Dogs.

Still active within the foundation, Wilma has watched SDF grow through the years as we realize her vision for providing more skilled canines to the nation and building a permanent home for the Search Dogs and handlers that serve our county – the National Training Center.

A Message from Wilma

Over twenty years ago, as I stood in the driveway of my Ojai home, I saw my life beginning to take an important turn. You see, I had just returned from Oklahoma City where my Search Dog Murphy and I combed the wreckage, searching for survivors of the Alfred P. Murrah building that had been bombed. I returned home determined that, out of that unfathomable tragedy, some good must come.

Standing there, I realize that improving disaster response was the way to make a significant difference, and honor those that perished on that day in April of 1995. I had a vision of how I wanted to help, but didn’t know exactly how I would accomplish this or what the end result would look like. All I knew is that our nation needed more, better-trained canine disaster search teams and that a small, strong and dedicated organization could provide them a home, a place to train and a place to share experiences learned, passed along from generation to generation.

As we opened the gates of the National Training Center (NTC) to the world, I was and still am in awe of just how much this incredible Search Dog family – Handlers, volunteers, staff, Board member, and YOU, our supporters – has accomplished together. This place isn’t JUST the home of the Search Dog Foundation (SDF), or JUST a place where rescued dogs and First Responders come together to form a life-saving resource for our communities in need. Rather it’s our collective gift to America, in honor of all who came before to get us to where we are today.

Wilma gets a kissI am proud to say we have completed a monumental endeavor – we have turned my vision from so many years ago into something you can see, feel, experience and treasure for yourselves. And while our Grand Opening of the NTC marked the end of a long journey, it also stands as the first step toward the future of Canine Disaster Search in this country. There is still much to do, and my hope is that there will always be more work to be done.

You see, most would think that as I drive through the gates of the NTC, I surely must have feelings of joy and pride in the accomplishment. Well, truth be told, there’s a bit of that but there are much larger feelings of focus on what comes next. You see, rightly or wrongly, I consider myself a visionary.

Fortunately, there is a wonderful staff at SDF seeing to the day-to-day operations and continually elevating and improving our programs. Consequently, I am focused on the future and where the emphasis of SDF will be put in the months and years to come.

So, while we enjoyed this historic moment in September 2017 – the grand opening of the NTC – I look forward to seeing this organization grow with you at our side. The gates are now open and as we walk through them together, let’s welcome others from all over to join us – all focused on the future and the many more milestones we will accomplish.

Thank you for being with us then, now and tomorrow. It has never been with more heartfelt enthusiasm and humility that I say, proudly, “Thank you all for being Part of the Search™!”