Search and rescue dog dies after long career
After an apartment building collapsed in Barbados, it took Spirit “not even a minute” to find the remains of two people.
When an earthquake pummeled Haiti in 2010, Spirit located 11 people who had been killed and trapped beneath rubble.
And she went with her partner to Iraq to try to find American soldiers who had been killed. Although there were no confirmed remains found, she spent several months trying.
For over a decade, the high-energy, always-willing-to-work yellow Labrador Retriever faithfully accompanied her human partner, Hilda Wood, on recovery missions. The purpose was to give grieving families closure in locating their deceased loved ones.
Spirit, which loved to be rewarded with sliced-up fire-hoses made into dog toys, died peacefully Aug. 7, 2018, just shy of her 15th birthday.
“This was one special animal,” said David Wood, Hilda’s husband. “She just loved to work.”
Spirit was born Sept. 22, 2003 and came from a “high-pedigree” bloodline, David Wood said. At 4 months old, the Woods thought they would lose their puppy when she suddenly developed a growth-plate disorder. But with the help of steroids, Spirit quickly proved she was willing to work.
As a firefighter and member of the Miami-Dade Fire Department’s Urban Search and Rescue team, Hilda Wood was looking for a dog that could help in rescue missions. At first, Spirit was trained to do live rescues, but in order to fill a need, Spirit learned how to search for human remains.
“When someone loses a loved one it becomes very important for them to have closure,” said David Wood, who retired as a Miami-Dade Fire division chief in 2013.
One of Spirit’s first assignments was in 2007, when Miami-Dade Fire Rescue sent a team to Bridgetown, Barbados, to help after part of an apartment building collapsed. According to www.caribbean360.com , the complex plunged through the roof of a cave , sending a couple and three of their four children dozens of feet below.
Hilda Wood said she first took one of her dogs trained for live rescue in a bucket truck below, but the dog did not alert that it smelled survivors. Then she took Spirit.
“I barely had the door open and Spirit already alerted,” she said this week.
Thanks to Spirit, rescuers found the bodies of the mother and a child, Caribbean360 reported.
Then in 2010, Wood took Spirit to Haiti on a private mission and spent about 30 days helping in the recovery effort. Besides helping find the remains of 11 people, Spirit also visited with children in the hospital, not something she did often.
“I’ll never forget, I took Spirit to the hospital and she formed a bond with this little boy who was a double amputee and lost both of his parents,” she recalled. “He didn’t talk at all, but when he met Spirit he started talking. It was amazing.”
That same year, Spirit accompanied Wood on another private mission — this one to Iraq to help recover the remains of fallen soldiers. Wood said her pup quickly adapted to life in the barracks and riding in Humvees and helicopters.
Outside of work, Spirit loved to run and swim. She also enjoyed catching and retrieving rubber training devices.
David Wood said Spirit’s ashes will be spread in a pond on their family property in Georgia — the property he bought after Spirit made it clear that was where they were meant to be by running out of his truck and straight into a pond.
“That will always be Spirit’s pond,” he said.