A live-scent search dog who is known internationally for finding disaster victims is retiring from his job with the Santa Barbara County Fire Department.

Riley, now 11 years old and slowing down, is settling in as the family pet with eight-year partner Capt. Eric Gray for his third attempt at a quiet home life, a County Fire spokesman said.

Born on Oct. 1, 2006, in Northern California, the yellow Labrador made two attempts at domestic life but ultimately found his place as a live-scent search dog trained by the Search Dog Foundation in Santa Paula, said County Fire spokesman Capt. Daniel Bertucelli.

When Riley finished his basic search dog training in October 2009, he joined the County Fire Department and was paired with Gray.

Together, they completed another seven months of rigorous training to earn their FEMA certification May 15, 2010, in Boston.

But since then, they have continued to train intensively to maintain the high-level skills needed for disaster search, Bertucelli said.

In addition to regular daily obstacle and obedience training, Riley and Gray traveled at least twice a week for search training with their teammates on California FEMA Task Force 2, based in Los Angeles.

Riley and Gray had a number of high-profile deployments over their career, responding to their first disaster on Aug. 24, 2010, when a semitruck-and-trailer rig loaded with gravel launched off a road and into a Santa Barbara home.

“Riley worked tirelessly ensuring no victims were left unaccounted for,” Bertucelli said.

But the team’s work was not limited to local incidents.

While assigned to FEMA Task Force 2 in Los Angeles County, Riley and Gray were sent to Japan on March 10, 2011, to search for victims of the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that led to nuclear meltdowns at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant.

Gray and Riley were again deployed overseas on April 26, 2015, following a 7.8 earthquake that struck Nepal, where the pair worked for more than a week searching for and locating victims amid the rubble.

In 2017, the duo went to Puerto Rico to search for victims of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that devastated the island and killed nearly 3,000 people.

Riley’s last high-profile deployment was on Jan. 9, 2018, when he and Gray spent several days searching for victims of the devastating Montecito debris flow that buried portions of the community under as much as 15 feet of mud, boulders and trees, leaving 21 dead, two missing and more than 150 injured.

While Riley is lounging at home, Gray is already training with his replacement, Bertucelli said.

“Once certified, he will be put into service,” he said.


News Editor

Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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