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Local Woman Honored For Developing Program to Train Search Dogs for Disasters

Wilma Melville with Ranger

A Ventura County woman who spearheaded a program to train search dogs and their handlers for disasters has recently been recognized for her efforts.

Eighty-two-year-old Wilma Melville of Santa Paula founded the Ojai-based National Disaster Search Dog Foundation in 1996 and recently received the Award of Achievement for Humanitarian Efforts from the Ninety-Nines, the International Organization of Women Pilots.

"When one is honored for something that is so much a part of one's life, it comes as bit of a surprise," she said. "Yet, I'm thankful and humbled that people appreciate that strengthening disaster response in our country is an important goal."

Melville developed the foundation with the mission of recruiting rescue dogs and partnering them with firefighters and other first responders to find people buried alive in the wreckage of disasters. Her nonprofit now has more than 75 active handlers training about 145 teams of dog and handlers. They've been deployed to the destruction of the World Trade Center, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, among many other disasters.