It takes a special person to be a dog handler, as not everyone is qualified. It is a position that relies on trust and true companionship between man and canine. Some would say it is a symbiotic type of relationship; each relying on one another to accomplish a single-minded goal. Together they are an inseparable team, saving lives and making a true difference in the worst of situations.
Some people can go through life fooling people, but they can’t fool dogs. Canines know people. They have the uncanny ability to sniff out who is right for the job and who falls short—and they do so without prejudice. One individual that measures up is Firefighter Jason Jasgur of the LAFD. Assigned to FS 27, Jason grew up surrounded by heroes. His is dad was a volunteer with Los Angeles County Search and Rescue, and his uncle was a firefighter/engineer with Running Springs Fire Department in San Bernardino.
Watching his dad and uncle through the years inspired him to become a firefighter, but there was one hero, in particular, who inspired him to become a canine handler: his father’s search dog Lucky. Jason has many fond memories of Lucky—a 130-pound Alaskan Malamute trained to find missing persons in large wilderness areas. The family would often work together in training simulations, with Jason and his sister often playing the victims. A bond quickly developed between the Jason and Lucky, and the two soon became inseparable. The two would also bond over their shared love of ice cream, which they would enjoy on the back patio after accomplishing a united mission to reach the freezer when no one was looking.
Growing up in a “dog family,” Jason learned what it took to become a canine handler. On July 27, 2018, he put his skills to the test as he began training to be a certified FEMA handler with his new partner Ruffy. The canine came complements of the Search Dog Foundation, an organization dedicated to the raising and training of specialized dogs for all types of search and rescue assignments.
“It’s been an awesome learning experience going through the Search Dog Foundation,” said Jason. “I’m able to share techniques and lessons with my dad, and we continue to bond over our passion for working professionally with dogs to help those in need.”
Jason has expanded his own “pack,” too, marrying his high school sweetheart, Melanie, and becoming a father. His son, Jacob, is six years old and is already interested in working with a canine in the future. Jason has found that having Ruffy has brought his family even closer together, and both his wife and son are happy to help reinforce training at every interaction.
On March 3, 2019, Ruffy and Jason passed their FEMA Certification, making them officially deployable with California Task Force 1. Jason is one of nine very dedicated handlers that belong to FEMA’s Taskforce K9 team. These eight individuals spend countless hours, mostly unpaid, traveling across Southern California training and preparing for emergency situations. They don’t do this alone, though. Sitting at their sides are their trusted companions. Eager to please and always ready to work, these canines live the position of rescuer. Although these animals come from different backgrounds—some raised and trained by their partners, while others have been trained by the Search Dog Foundation—they all have what it takes to do the job and save lives.
The testing process of for both positions is not an easy one. Training for a position on a FEMA team is rigorous and very time consuming. The testing process can take up to a year to complete and a lot of dedication on the trainer’s own dime—no PB 24 here. Once they achieve their FEMA certification, the work continues. Members of the team are required to train at least four days per month. This doesn’t include daily obedience work, nose work, drive work, direction and control, PR events, etc. Remember: the majority of this work is done on a voluntary basis.
Firefighter Jasgur put in well over 500 hours, and countless miles on his personal vehicle, traveling all over Southern California to train with our LAFD team and other FEMA Task Force K9 teams. Jason and his fellow handlers make their K9’s available to the city, state, and federal government through FEMA. Their dogs are proficient in locating missing live persons. They alert on the strongest source of live human scent. The teams can cover everything from hurricanes to collapsed buildings and everything in between. Jason is also working towards certification in wide-area wilderness-type searches to further improve the availability to the citizens of Los Angeles and surrounding areas.
The student has now become the teacher, sharing what he has learned with his son, Jacob. Hopefully, he will inspire his son to follow in his dad’s footsteps, preserving a legacy of hope for those in need of rescuing. To ensure this, Jason will continue to do what his father did for him—keeping his son involved and always encouraging his interest, while taking the time to teach, listen to, and support his son.
This article was adapted from a publication by The Search Dog Foundation.
By John Hicks