Canine, partner Capt. Eric Gray were on many high-profile deployments

Staff Report

The Santa Barbara County Fire Department has announced the death of Riley, its retired live scent search dog. 

Born in Northern California, Riley, after two attempts at domestic life, found his place in this world as a live scent search dog, trained by the Search Dog Foundation in Santa Paula. 

On Oct. 15, 2009, Riley finished his basic Search Dog training and was paired with Capt. Eric Gray of the Santa Barbara County Fire Department. The duo worked extremely hard and after seven months of training together, they passed their FEMA certification on May 15, 2010, in Boston.
Gray and Riley continued to train intensively to maintain the very specific, high-level skill set needed for disaster search. In addition to their regular daily training on obedience and obstacles, the pair traveled at least twice a week for search training with their teammates on California Task Force 2, based in Los Angeles. 

“He taught me things that I didn’t know I needed lessons in,” Gray said in his social media post about Riley. 

Riley’s last high-profile deployment was On Jan. 9, 2018, when he and partner Capt. Eric Gray searched for several days following the devastating Montecito debris flow.

“On the pile he searched with a ferocity that was both frantic and yet oddly controlled.  His alert was singularly his, anyone who knows will laugh remembering this,” Gray added. “Once he located the victim, he would sit back on his hind legs and, with the anger of a toddler tantrum, bounce up and down on his front paws as if that would expedite bringing forth the toy he so deserved. Think aggressive push-ups. Boing, boing, boing, boing, boing! That bouncing accompanied by a hugely deep, bassy bark that was in rhythm with the bouncing. When Riley found his victim, there was no doubt what was happening.”

Riley and Gray had several high-profile deployments during their career together. On Aug. 24, 2010, They responded to their first disaster, a semi-truck loaded with gravel that had launched off the road and into a Santa Barbara home. Riley worked tirelessly ensuring no victims were left unaccounted for. 

Riley’s work was not limited to local incidents: On March 10, 2011, while assigned to Los Angeles County FEMA Task Force 2, he and Gray were deployed to Japan to search for victims in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake and tsunami. 

On April 26, 2015, Gray and Riley were again deployed overseas to provide their services to the victims of the Nepal earthquake. They worked for over a week looking for and locating victims among the rubble. 

In 2017, the duo brought their skills to Puerto Rico to search for victims of Hurricane Maria. 

Riley’s last high-profile deployment was On Jan. 9, 2018, where he and Gray searched for several days following the devastating Montecito debris flow. 

“Years together and thousands of hours of training came together in one place,” Gray said. “Then Montecito…our backyard, where all who responded were faced with a substance none had trained in. Mud! Deep, dangerous, still often moving. But we had a job. Trust! I opened the crate door, walked him to the edge of the mud and gave him the word that gave him purpose, ‘search.’ 

“He didn’t need my help, my encouragement, my guidance or support. Simply, trust me Dad. He did an unbelievable job in the absolute worst circumstances and conditions.”

After retirement, Riley spent his last two years at home with Gray and his family.