LAFD Remembers Duke: Beloved Canine Responder Dies Month Prior to 9-11 Anniversary

Wednesday, August 24, 2011 |

From our friends at the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation...

Duke, a male Chocolate Lab, was born on August 22, 1997. Purchased by Doris and Larry Bilderback of Salinas as a hunting dog, Duke demonstrated very early on that he had other aspirations... he knew he was much better suited to the life of a Search Dog. That's when they decided to contact the Search Dog Foundation (SDF).

Evaluated as a potential Search Dog, Duke passed the tests with ease. He was soon brought to the home of Debra Tosch, SDF's Executive Director, in Ojai, California where he lived for two months. Debra prepared him for his official training program at Sundowners Kennel, the facility in Gilroy, California where all SDF dogs train.

Duke was paired with his handler Howard Orr, a firefighter with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department, in 1999 - where he found a real home and they became a valuable team. Duke and Howard were loyal partners on the job and formed a strong bond through their continual training schedule. This schedule meant they trained every week with the other canines and handlers in their SDF Training Group. They worked continuously on search and rescue skills, maintaining top form so they would be ready for deployment at a moment’s notice. They also achieved Advanced Certification from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), making them able to respond across the nation as a Canine Disaster Search Team.

Howard Orr and Duke
As part of the Los Angeles Fire Department's FEMA Task Force (CA-TF1), Howard & Duke responded to numerous deployments during their 9-year career, including the La Conchita mudslide in January 2005, Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in August and September 2005, the Paso Robles Earthquake of 2003, the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City in 2002, and their very first deployment at the Echo Park Building Collapse in 2000. However, out of all the deployments they responded to, the one they are most recognized for is their response to Ground Zero in the days following the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.

After many years of searching, Duke retired to spend time with Howard and his family at home in Thousand Oaks, CA. He still loved his toys and an easy search every now and then, but certainly enjoyed his retirement.

After struggling for months with several health issues, Duke crossed the Rainbow Bridge on August 8, 2011, with Howard by his side. As one of the founding teams in the Southern California area, Howard & Duke helped form the solid foundation that many of our current Search Teams have relied on when first beginning their journeys as disaster search canine handlers. Duke will be greatly missed by those that knew and worked with him as well as those that may never have met this great dog but admired his work from afar. Duke’s pawprints will be big ones to fill and we will all miss him immensely.

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To learn more about these amazing search dogs and their handlers, please visit:

Submitted by Brian Humphrey, Spokesman
Los Angeles Fire Department


e said...

God speed, Duke. The SDF is a great organization, and the accept donations!

Anonymous said...

Having dogs of my own, I know how special they can be. Duke sounds like he was quite the canine and had a good life. There are tears in my eyes right now, and it's always sad when your best friend has to cross over Rainbow Bridge, but it's so important and meanigful to be by their side when that time comes. God Bless You Duke, and to Howard, all firefighters and search dogs, stay safe.

Bubba Willis said...

Duke and Howard were awesome together, I had the fortunate luck to be able to work with them on all the deployments Duke went on with CA-TF1. Thanks for all the hard work Duke. Bubba

Anonymous said... sorry to hear of the loss of Duke. I remember the exhaustion, the dust on their nose and paws, and the willingness to go at it again. I also know what it's like to lose a pal and co-worker and I know he will be missed. It was a pleasure working with you and Duke during those dark days..the best to you and yours and my thoughts are with Duke as well.
Tom Burau
LAFD Retired

Anonymous said...

God Bless You Duke! Stay safe on the other side of Rainbow Bridge!

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