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Hunt Is On for Missing Search and Rescue Dog

April 14, 2002|JESSICA GARRISON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A search and rescue dog trained to locate disaster victims in hard-to-reach places has disappeared from his own backyard.

Max ran away from his La Habra Heights home right after eating his dinner April 2. Despite the desperate search attempts of his owner, Los Angeles County Firefighter Bill Monahan, the boisterous black Labrador without a collar has remained lost.

When he's off duty, the 6-year-old canine with his own Fire Department badge goes home to a dog run at the Monahan house--and his collar is removed for his own comfort.

On the night Max disappeared, Monahan's son let him out of his kennel so he could enjoy his dry kibble with the family's two other dogs, German shepherds that have free rein on the unfenced one-acre property. He wandered off and hasn't been seen since.

Monahan said the whole family is heartbroken. Not to mention the grief at the fire station.

"He's one of us," Monahan said. "He's part of the rescue team."

Monahan's children, 18-year-old Bill Jr. and 11-year-old Jennifer, helped train Max, who has been with the family since he was 3 months old. The estimated cost of the dog's training was $20,000, Monahan said.

Jennifer used to crawl into cabinets and under sinks in the family's house and wait for Max to find her. She also taught Max how to climb the ladder on her jungle gym.

Bill Jr. would take a bottle of water, lower himself into concrete piles used for training, and wait up to two hours for Max and other search and rescue dogs to sniff him out.

The dog has never actually found anyone who was lost during a disaster. He was scheduled to go to New York and comb through the rubble at the World Trade Center, Monahan said, but he never got the call.

Here in Southern California, he has been on two missions. Once he was sent through a collapsed apartment building to find survivors, but it later turned out that everyone had already been evacuated. Another time, he searched bushes after a car accident until it was determined that no one had been ejected from the car.

But from his dog run at Fire Station 91 in Hacienda Heights, Max was ever-prepared for earthquake, fire and flood, Monahan said.

He hopes Max decided to follow a friendly jogger home, and is now sitting in someone's fenced backyard.

If that is the case, Monahan said he hopes that Max's hosts will bring him home. He can also be dropped off at any county fire station.

In the meantime, Monahan is putting up posters and making the rounds of local dog pounds.

Max is all black and has no markings, except for a faint tattoo of his 1995 birth date in one of his ears. He weighs 60 to 70 pounds. Anyone who has seen him can call any county fire station.

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