Riverside K-9 rescue team welcomed back after Puerto Rico mission

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (KABC) -- A local state task force K-9 team who was sent out to Puerto Rico to aid in search and rescue efforts returned home Tuesday.

The van pulled up in Riverside and the heroes were home. They were greeted with cheers and hugs came with wagging tails and sloppy kisses.

One dog, Jules, was still wearing her FEMA vest. Finley, a Belgian Malinois, enjoyed the attention.

"A dog does nothing more than just settle peoples' minds and make people feel good. So there was a lot of pets and a lot of kids running up and meeting Finley in a time of distress," Lucia Rapalyea, with the team, said.

California Task Force 6 is one of eight teams from the state that makes up the National Urban Search and Rescue teams.

Family and friends came with posters to welcome back the seven members of the Riverside K-9 Mission Ready Package.

The team wrapped up a 19-day deployment to hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico.

"It was an emotional rollercoaster. There was highs and lows and scary points," Rapalyea said.

The trip started as a rescue effort after Irma tore through the island, but then Hurricane Maria developed and the mission turned into one of survival for the team, which included a middle school librarian.

"We were watching the news the day before it came in and the news said, 'Leave Puerto Rico or die,'" Katrina Kurth said.

After Maria ripped through the island, it was right back to work for the team as they conducted search missions on Puerto Rico and the surrounding islands.

"It was hard to see people in agony and people that are scared," Rapalyea said.

But it was the dogs who kept everyone calm, especially after Maria damaged part of the hotel they were all staying in.

"Jules does great. Nothing much phases this dog. She's a great dog," handler Bruce Holms said.

About 80 percent of power lines in Puerto Rico are down, and 40 percent of the population remains without drinking water. Of the 69 hospitals on the island, 58 are still without electricity.
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