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Novato Fire District to Honor Heroic Search and Rescue Dog Jessie

A special presentation will be made to remember Jessie, the Novato Fire District Urban Search and Rescue dog.

At its April 3 meeting, the Novato Fire District will take a moment to recognize Jessie, a search and rescue dog that passed away at the end of last year.

The 6 p.m. board of directors meeting takes place at Fire Station 61, 2nd Floor 7025 Redwood Blvd., Novato. The agenda is attached at right.

In the district’s most recent newsletter, the following story was published about Jessie and his handlers:

Born May 28, 1998, Jessie's story began with Search Dog Foundation (SDF) handler Jeff Place, who raised him from a pup before bringing him to Wilma, SDF's founder. Wilma and SDF soon found him a prep home with Donna Stevens and her family. It was with the Stevens family that Jessie started to make his mark. At the time, he just couldn't sit still. He was super-active and happy, with a "win your heart" expression on his face.

In the midst of all this exuberance, Jessie began displaying the qualities that make a terrific search dog: he was a very diligent searcher and was always willing to do what was asked of him.

After one year, the Stevens family turned Jessie over to Pluis, SDF's lead trainer at Sundowners Kennel in Gilroy, CA. Pluis noted that he was a very responsive dog with high drive, and that he was extremely sensitive to his first handler, Ron von Allworden, an engineer with the Sacramento Metro Fire Department. He was very much in tune to Ron's body language.

Ron and Jessie deployed to two small tornadoes in the Sacramento area, where they were able to help determine that the buildings they searched were abandoned. They were also sent to help with rescue efforts in Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Ron and Jessie were close to going to 9/11, being fifth on the deployment list. However, only four Canine Disaster Search Teams from Sacramento Task Force 7 (CA-TF7) were selected to go to Ground Zero, so Ron and Jessie stayed behind.

Unfortunately, Ron was unable to continue working with Jessie and in Spring 2007, he returned Jessie to SDF's kennel. At the same time, SDF handler Mike Taul was looking for a second Search Dog and Pluis thought they would be a great match.

Mike works for the Novato Fire Department in Northern California and trained with Jessie every day, along with the rest of the Oakland Task Force 4 (CA-TF4) Training Group. In November 2007, Mike and Jessie achieved FEMA Certification, making them deployable across the country when disaster strikes.

In August 2008, Mike and Jessie were deployed to Galveston, TX, in the wake of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike, which thrashed the Gulf Coast of the United States that Summer. Searching abandoned, flooded homes for miles on end, Jessie made sure no one was left behind after the storm.

By this time, Jessie was 10 years old and Mike knew it was time to retire him from search work. Jessie enjoyed his golden retirement years at home with the Taul family in Pleasant Hill, CA, fetching as many tennis balls as he liked.

Sadly, on December 27, 2012, after having more and more trouble eating, Mike made the difficult decision to let Jessie go. At 14 years old and after an eight-year career in urban search and rescue, Mike said goodbye to his partner of five years as Jessie crossed the Rainbow Bridge.

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