Long Beach’s first search canine celebrates retirement after 11 years of service

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Kristen Farrah Naeem | Signal Tribune

Fire Captain Wade Haller (left) has been the handler for Rex, Long Beach’s first Search Canine, for 11 years.

A trailblazing member of the Long Beach Fire Department celebrated his retirement early on Thursday, Dec. 17.

The dog, a black Labrador retriever named Rex, has faithfully served the City of Long Beach, the State of California and the Country for the last 11 years. His service was honored during a short ceremony in front of the LBFD Headquarters.

In front of a small crowd of media and LBFD staff, Fire Chief Xavier Espino and Orange County Fire Authority Urban Search and Rescue Battalion Chief Steve Dohman wished Rex a healthy retirement and reflected on his service to the public.

At Rex’s side throughout the event was his longtime handler, Captain Wade Haller. The pair have been a team since 2009. Since then, Rex has been “on-call” to respond to any major disaster throughout the United States. In September of 2017, Rex was deployed to Texas in support of Hurricane Harvey. In January of 2018, Rex searched the areas in and around the devastating mud flows in Montecito after the Thomas Fire.

In that time, they have completed four assessment tests, which Dohman called “an incredible feat and incredible service life for a canine.”

Dohman is also a Program Manager with FEMA Urban Search and Rescue California Task Force Five, which Haller and Rex have worked with throughout their partnership.

“One thing I want to recognize is for those who don’t understand the canine training program or understand the dedication, it […] takes years of service and training, dedication to hone your skills,” Dohman said.

Dohman explained that when a dog and handler are first paired together they have to train for around six to nine months before they can take their first fundamental skills assessment test in order to prove they can work together. After passing, the handler and canine must train daily for six months before becoming a certified FEMA team, and even then they are reevaluated every three years.

Rex was trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which provides canines and training the fire departments across the country. He was selected by the foundation at an unusually young age because he comes from a champion lineage of field trial and duck hunting breeding.

“He has been a fantastic search dog and an amazing partner,” Rex’s handler Haller said. “It’s definitely bittersweet to come to the culmination of a great career. I am so thankful for all those that have been on this journey with us.”

Fire Captain Wade Haller and Rex, Long Beach’s first Search Canine. (Courtesy LBFD)

Haller will be continuing in his role and has already begun working with his new canine partner named Dallas.

Espino and Dohman presented Rex and Haller with plaques to commemorate their work together. Attempts were made to show Rex the plaques, but he did not seem interested in them.

“It has been amazing to watch the growth of this dog that was repurposed to become what he has become. He has been a fantastic search dog and an amazing partner. It’s definitely bittersweet to come to the culmination of a great career. I am so thankful for all those that have been on this journey with us,” Haller said in a City press release.