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Construction is underway in Ventura County to convert a one-time horse ranch off Wheeler Canyon Road into the nation’s only center in the training of search and rescue dogs.

The Search Dog Foundation, a nonprofit group started in 1996 that recruits rescue dogs and trains them to find victims in natural disasters, has collected $8.2 million in donations for the construction. It needs $14.5 million, said Debra Tosch, the foundation’s executive.

Once the needed funds are received, the 125-acre center will include a building where dog handlers will be able to simulate artificial climates as part of the canine training, including cold snowy weather or humid tropical conditions. The facility will include a visitors’ center and a memorial park where the photographs of dogs that have served on search and rescue teams and have since died will be posted.

A dedication ceremony for the park is scheduled for Sept. 11.  The opening of the facility is scheduled for a year later on Sept. 11, 2012. To donate to the center go to

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