This Valentine's Day, eight pups fought the urge to run from a "giant dog-eating machine" in the service of a higher calling.
Canine members of the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Search and Rescue team participated in a helicopter training session, according to a news release.
The dogs and their handlers, including the sheriff's K-9 Unit, flew for five minutes and ran through several sessions of loading and unloading from under a helicopter's whirling rotors, sheriff's spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.
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The training aims to help the dogs familiarize themselves with the helicopters they'll be riding on future search and rescue missions, Hoover said. Training took place at the Santa Barbara County Air Support Unit hangar in Santa Ynez
The most dangerous part of a search and rescue mission for canine teams is loading and unloading from a helicopter with spinning rotors, according to one expert.
"The downwash from the spinning blades, along with the noise and the visual picture, are extremely scary for the dogs,” said Juanita Smith, a Santa Barbara County Search and Rescue (SBCSAR) team member and dog handler.
"To a dog, the helicopter is a giant dog-eating machine that they would rather run from instead of stand up against," Smith said.
Smith said some dogs get comfortable with the helicopters on the first try while others take several sessions.
The pups aren't forced onto the helicopters and must be wiling participants, Hoover said
All SBCSAR canine teams must be certified by the CRDA. Currently, the team has 34 members including new canine search teams, Hoover said.
For more information on SBCSAR, an all-volunteer branch of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Office, go to sbcsar.net.