ATTORNEY BONNIE SCHRINER AND HER SEARCH AND RESCUE DOG ARE ON CALL 24/7 BY AIMÉE GROTH
SEARCH, RESCUE AND MEDIATE
Hurricane Katrina revealed the best and
the worst of humanity, which Bonnie M.J.
Schriner experienced from the front lines.
The devastating hurricane hit on a
Monday, and by Tuesday she deployed with
FEMA’s Colorado Task Force 1 mission, which
included 31 rescue workers, four of whom
were canine handlers. The New Orleans
airport was closed, so they drove 29 hours
from Denver to the Deep South, hauling
more than 100,000 pounds of equipment.
She’d spent years preparing.
In the late 1970s, she had come across
a powerful cover story in the Denver
Sunday newspaper. It included a photo of
a tall blonde in a bright orange jumpsuit,
standing on a rubble pile with her German
shepherd searching for earthquake victims
in Guatemala. “I read the story and decided
I wanted to do that work before I died,” says
Schriner. “As I approached a significant
birthday, I bought a training book, found
a local search team and started practicing
with them. I didn’t even own a dog, but the
work seemed rewarding and the training,
I soon learned, would become a lifestyle,
using most of your discretionary time and
money to accomplish the goal of becoming
certified with a search and rescue team.”
She even changed her solo practice to
fit her new lifestyle, forgoing litigation to
focus exclusively on mediation, arbitration
and collaborative law, primarily handling
domestic relations cases. “As a search and
rescue worker, I could be deployed at any
time. I realized I couldn’t tell the court that I
had to leave in the middle of a trial,” she says.
A few weeks after training her first dog,
Delta, they became an official search team
with the Colorado Task Force 1—Urban Search
and Rescue, one of FEMA’s 28 task forces
throughout the country. “We traveled to many
places to work on rubble piles—Nebraska,
Ohio, Florida, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas,
all over Colorado—to expose us to a wide
variety of searching conditions.”
Katrina was their biggest mission.
Once Schriner and the CO-TF1 mission
Trudging through disaster zones gives
team arrived in New Orleans, it was hard,
“I remember René, a Cajun man working
in our food line,” she says. “When I asked
how he happened to be there he answered,
‘Honey, the last time I saw my house it was
just a roof under 19 feet of water, so I decided
I needed to get up here and go to work
helping to feed you workers.’”
She had to put Delta down last year, but
Delta’s daughter, Tango Rita, is certified and
Schriner’s new teammate.
Schriner a unique perspective. On her
website, she includes a manifesto titled,
“What I Learned in New Orleans”:
1. Every minute given to you is a gift.
2. Simple gratitude is a gift powerful
enough to overcome any adversity.
Her immersion in disaster relief even
informs Schriner’s law practice.
“It’s hard when you come back from
your search and people are arguing about
something minor,” she says. “I find myself
really having to focus on what their dispute is
and why it’s important to them, despite having
seen tragedies that … impact more people.”
She has universal advice for clients: “Don’t
be afraid to have a tough discussion. Don’t be
afraid to talk about expectations. There are
only two fears adults have: fear of not having
enough and fear of not being enough.”