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Salone, a pit bull currently living at Illinois Valley Animal Rescue in La Salle, trots around the Lincoln’s Playground exercise area recently with her ball. Salone has been adopted by people in Texas who wish to train her to work as a cadaver dog.
Illinois Valley Animal Rescue assistant kennel manager Trina Funfsinn works with Salone, a young pit bull who has been chosen by people in Texas to be trained as a cadaver dog. Her fitness and drive displayed when she plays with a toy indicated that she has what it takes to do that kind of work.
Volunteers at Illinois Valley Animal Rescue were worried about Salone, a compact, energetic, grayish-blue pit bull mix. They didn’t know if anyone who happened to see the dog in a cage would want to adopt it. “She gets very stressed out,” IVAR director Chris Ellberg said of Salone’s demeanor while in a pen. Now the pooch not only is being rescued, but a Texas woman plans to intensely train it to become a cadaver search dog. “We were trying to get somebody either to foster or adopt her because she was having a lot of trouble with the shelter environment,” said volunteer Trina Funfsinn. Funfsinn said while other dogs in cages might sell themselves well to people who walk past their cages, Salone was biting at the cage, spinning and pacing. In other words: a nervous wreck. IVAR staff realized Salone had an excellent temperament and was playful and extremely motivated when she was not locked up in the shelter. She especially enjoyed being with people, playing with a ball, playing fetch and running around in the new exercise area surrounded by fences donated in late spring by an IVAR supporter. They decided to publicize photos of Salone at her best to showcase her and possibly attract a new master. “We put some pictures on Facebook. We put up some video of her playing outside, because once you get her outside the shelter, she’s a different dog,” Funfsinn said. The dog caught the eye of Rachel Ziebell-Ralston, formerly of Spring Valley. She’s a former Bureau County coroner’s deputy who used to offer the services of her trained cadaver search dog, Karma, to Bureau County Mounted Search and Rescue. Ziebell-Ralston now lives in Texas and has taken Karma to assist law enforcement with missing person (presumed dead) searches in several states, including southern Illinois and Minnesota and in the rubble left behind by the Joplin, Mo., tornado. Karma is an American Bulldog/pit mix that has had a great deal of success, but is 5 years old and eventually will need replacement. Ziebell-Ralston this week was making arrangements to fly Salone to Texas for beginning training, to eventually work with Karma and to eventually replace the veteran dog. Watching IVAR’s video, Ziebell-Ralston immediately noticed how attentive Salone was to its handler and any ball a handler was holding or throwing. The video gave her the impression Salone would be ready for training for a tough job. The dog appeared to have a great deal of “toy drive,” and appears to have the ability to be obedient. She asked IVAR staff members to make more videos testing Salone in other ways. She appears to have “nerve strength,” ability to handle loud noises, in addition to ability to be around new people and new things. “Many dogs don’t handle shelter life very well, particularly a dog that has the drive she has,” Ziebell-Ralston said. “They need to have a job to do.” She said the job isn’t always finding a body. Sometimes, as was the case in Joplin, they’re asked to check a large area to see if there are no more bodies. Ziebell-Ralston prefers to give a shelter dogs a chance to do the work. “Especially the pits, that are the underdogs,” she said. “They have this reputation that they need to turn around and this is a way to demonstrate that. … They’re relentless and dedicated if they have a job to do.” She said the ones she has worked with learn quickly, remember and are “efficient.” Ellberg said about 60 percent of the dogs, all from the Illinois Valley, at the IVAR shelter are pit bulls or similar breeds. Ellberg is excited that Salone will have a home and a job. She reiterated that Salone and most of the other dogs are socialized and exercised better since they spend more time on “Lincoln’s Playground” and when they have kennel “enrichment” items at night such as Kongs.