- Associated Press - Monday, December 15, 2014

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. (AP) - Second-graders at Rogers Elementary squealed last Monday when Eddie, a certified rescue dog, found their principal hiding in a barrel on the stage of the school’s gymnasium.

None of the kids knew where their principal was, but there could be no doubt that something was in that barrel when Eddie started barking, ran full-speed toward the barrel and relentlessly pushed his way inside until Principal Mark Conrad emerged.

Since Rogers Elementary kids are studying heroes, they got to meet Eddie, a Labrador retriever, Wylie, a border collie, and Gary Hay, the dogs’ owner and trainer, who is the canine training director for Indiana Task Force 1 for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The students have been writing biographies on heroes, and not just those who become famous for their deeds. Inspired by the Everyday Heroes recognized annually by The Herald-Times, the students have been finding out how day-to-day actions can be heroic and that even animals can be heroes.

“It’s been a great integration of all the things we need to be doing: reading, writing and social studies, but also making it meaningful to the students and making it something real that they can understand - how these people are important, how what we do every day is important,” Suzanne Thomson, literacy coach at Rogers, told The Herald-Times (https://bit.ly/1uNgzw7 ).

Kailee Miller, a second-grade student at Rogers, said after meeting Hay and his dogs, she felt like she could be a hero and maybe even train rescue dogs one day. She was all smiles after getting a chance to pat Eddie on the head.

“The dog hit me with his tail,” Kailee said with a giggle.

Eddie can do a lot more than wag his tail, and he’s been to locations much different from an elementary school gymnasium. He helped out after Hurricane Sandy and searched for people after the Henryville tornado.

“These guys are trained and certified by FEMA for search and rescue and collapsed structures, and they’re also certified for what we call wilderness searches,” said Hay of his dogs. If people get lost in the woods or walk away from a nursing home, they might encounter Eddie or Wylie, who can help them find their way home.

For the crowd of kids in the Rogers gym, Hay demonstrated how his dogs will stop in mid-chase if he gives the signal. From a distance, Hay can call to the dogs to tell them to jump up on an object or go near or far. When they find the person they’re looking for, they let Hay know by barking. The dogs train three nights a week, and their obedience is rewarded with a fun Frisbee toss or their favorite treat.

“I hope I never have to be used, but I want my dogs to be ready and be reliable,” Hay said.

Helping people makes him feel good, but it’s also personal.

Hay’s grandfather walked away from a nursing home in a rural area, and his large family conducted a search to find him. That event helped Hay recognize the need for trained rescue dogs, and he’s been training furry four-legged friends since 1993.

Eddie and Wylie aren’t just dogs he works with, they’re also part of his family. They keep a close eye on their owner at all times, paw at his chest when they want to be scratched and tug their toys from his pocket when he’s not looking.

When they aren’t in the midst of search and rescue training, they like to swim and run.

As Hay puts it, “they just enjoy being good ol’ house dogs and family pets.”


Information from: The Herald Times, https://www.heraldtimesonline.com

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