ALAMO — Pearl was a homeless dog living in an animal shelter after running away many times, before she found her calling. Earlier this year, the rescue dog helped find survivors under the rubble after the earthquake in Haiti.
Now, the 3-year-old black Labrador retriever is the subject of a children's book created by Alamo students to raise money for another dog to be trained like her. The book, "A New Job for Pearl" is also the third and final such book by classroom volunteer Allyn Lee and Rancho Romero Elementary second-grade teacher Connie Forslind, who is retiring after almost 40 years with the district.
"I thought it was really cool," said Ron Horteski, Pearl's handler and a captain with the Los Angeles County Fire Department. "The kids did an awesome job."
Pearl is one of six search-and-rescue dogs on the California Task Force 2 urban search and rescue team. Horteski, who said such dogs do the job until they are 9 to 11 years old, said Pearl and the other dogs worked in Haiti, marking where there were signs of life under collapsed buildings so others could get them out.
Lee, who had a daughter in Forslind's class, has volunteered for more than a decade, doing jobs including teaching students about animals. Like the other two books she wrote, she was inspired by news accounts of animals helping others after disasters.
This time, however, it is based on a true story. Research led her to the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation, which has bios of their dogs. She was also looking for a subject that had come from an animal shelter — a subject close to her heart — and one that was on the California Task Force 2.
The story tells how Pearl often escaped from her yard and was picked up by the Plumas County Animal Shelter. It follows how she was adopted and then trained to be a search dog. The story explains how she was energetic and athletic, not good qualities for someone who wanted a calm pet but good qualities for a search dog.
"I really wanted to find a dog that had been adopted and likely (would have) been euthanized," said Lee.
This book is the students' largest printing, with 3,000 copies made, about 1,500 of which were bought by the search dog foundation. Lee hopes sales of the remaining books raise $10,000 for the foundation, which is the cost of training one dog.
The printing was paid by People and Properties Sotheby's International Realty owners Mark Attarha and Nahid Nassiri and from donations among its agents, including one who is a parent at the school, Lee said.
Forslind, in her 39th year, said they talked to students about making a difference in the world and following through with commitments.
"They're just really excited," she said. "I'm just thrilled we had the opportunity to do this."
Lee's first book, "A New Job for Lalana," is about an elephant that helped out with rescue efforts after the 2004 tsunami that caused destruction in multiple Asian countries.
About 1,000 copies were made, and it raised money for relief efforts.
The second, "A New Job for Mitts," was about a man who credits surviving Hurricane Katrina's aftermath to his dog constantly licking his face.
There were 1,500 copies of that book, which came out in the 2005-06 school year to raise money for World Vision, a Christian aid organization based in Federal Way, Wash., and Hopalong Animal Rescue in Oakland.
Eric Louie covers San Ramon Valley education. Contact him at 925-847-2123.
"A New Job for Pearl, which sells for a suggested $10 donation, can be purchased by calling Allyn Lee at 925-588-8180 or at Rancho Romero Elementary, 180 Hemme Dr. Alamo. A mail order form is available at www.ranchoromero.net.