Mike Rooke with Rex (left).

Retirement comes for Mike and Rex

A veteran rescue dog trainer and handler is retiring with his dog but says they will still answer the call of duty if needed.
May 16, 2024

AFTER 40 years of service, volunteer emergency rescue dog trainer and handler Mike Rooke is retiring himself, and his dog Rex, from on-call duty for the Department of Fire and Emergency Services.

With National Volunteer Week approaching (May 19-26), Mr Rooke (80) decided it was time to pass the baton – and had his last weekly training session with Rex at the DFES Training Academy in Forrestfield last Sunday.

In typical understated style, Mike drew a line under his record-long service to the USAR (urban search and rescue) canine team among his friends – other volunteers  who selflessly sacrifice their time to be at the ready should an emergency occur and people need to be found and rescued.

Building collapse (through earthquake or other cause), mudslide and aircraft or other large vehicle accidents are the most common incidents.

Mr Rooke and his then search dog were called in at the Kings Park mudslide in 2010, when 100 people were evacuated as a mudflow caused by a severe hailstorm engulfed an apartment block.

He and his dog took part in the 2003 inaugural exercises in Wellington, New Zealand  which established USAR canine teams as essential elements of emergency services capabilities in Australasia.

Because of the demand of continuous weekly training, and the one-on-one relationship between dog and owner/handler, Mr Rooke is the only person in WA to have trained three dogs, consecutively,  for a lifetime of service readiness.

Upon his retirement, USAR canine team leader Lisa Spatcher presented Mike with a certificate of distinction for his unrivalled service, and immense dedication to emergency services as a volunteer.

“He has invested so much of his time in training new members, providing support and advice, and always being available to help out. With his 40 years of service across different branches of emergency services, he has set an example for everyone. I doubt anybody will ever show more dedication,” Ms Spatcher said.

He has simultaneously been a 40-year volunteer at the Mundijong Volunteer Bushfire Brigade.

“So really I have been volunteering for 80 years,” he said.

Of course with that kind of commitment, he has been lucky to have a supportive family along the way.

“For the first few years, my kids would come along to the training with me. Unsurprisingly, they did get a bit tired of it.  But ever since then, they have all been very supportive for me to keep going,” he said.

And whats’ next for Mike and Rex?

“Well, a little more time off on Sundays. But if something big were to happen tomorrow, Rex and I would certainly be available to help if needed,” he said.

With the retirement of Mike and Rex, the USAR Canine team is looking for another volunteer or two.

“We like to have five or six handlers and dogs ready to go to any emergency, so if anyone is inspired by Mike’s efforts, then please get in touch with us,” Lisa says.

USAR Canine team trains on Sunday mornings and can be contacted via the DFES website.


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