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Rocket — a half Belgian Malinois, half Border collie — was discovered by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation from a Sacramento shelter, where he was considered unadoptable because he was too rambunctious. The foundation, an Ojai nonprofit dedicated to finding and training USAR dogs, took Rocket home from the shelter only days before he was scheduled to be put to sleep. As it turns out, dogs that are excitable, jumpy, high-energy — behaviors that make for difficult house pets — are exactly the characteristics desired in search and rescue dogs. Rocket was paired with SCFD Engineer Mike Stornetta. Both are perfect for this assignment — either can’t sit still and both have a passion for public safety.

Rocket has shown great abilities earning the difficult distinction as an official USAR dog. He is qualified as a Federal Emergency Management Agency USAR dog, which means they will go wherever help is needed across the country. USAR dogs are trained to find people who are still alive, but trapped in collapsed buildings and other structures. The dogs were deployed by amateur handlers at the site of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and have become widely used over the past two decades, playing an integral role in finding survivors on 9/11. While there are tracking and search-and-rescue dogs in Sonoma County, Rocket is the only USAR dog in the county — and the only one north of Marin to the Washington state border.

Getting to the point of being the county’s first USAR handler takes a lot time, passion and persistence on behalf of the dog and the handler. One of the largest challenges with this program is money. While FEMA reimburses the Fire District for much of the costs associated with the USAR program, the remainder of the program is largely funded by donations.

Rocket and Engineer Stornetta are often out and about in the community both off and on duty but always ready for the call. Rocket does a great demonstration at our annual open house the second Saturday of every October (during Fire Prevention week) and is often leading the Windsor Day parade.

Mike Stornetta and Rocket


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