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24 July, 2024
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The four-legged heroes who 'sniff out' life in Turkey's ruins

Members of EMAK and a dog trainer who specializes in search and rescue talk to 'K' about the dogs who save people's lives.

Kathimerini Greece Newsroom

by Sofia Christou

The battle in recent days in the rubble of areas of Turkey and Syria devastated by the earthquake has been uneven. The death toll has exceeded 15,000 in both countries and time is "running out".

Rescue teams from around the world, as well as Turkish rescuers and ordinary citizens, are looking for any remaining signs of life in the devastated areas.

But they are not fighting alone. They are accompanied by their loyal "friends," who have a hundred thousand times better sense of smell, and can climb, dig, and run much faster than even the best rescuer in the world.French rescue dog in the rubble in the town of Osmaniye in southern Turkey. Photo: AP

More than 100 trained rescue and search dogs are currently deployed in Turkey and Syria with the primary goal of locating survivors among the rubble.

Unfortunately, their work will be cut short when the dogs trained to "sniff out" death arrive.

Almost all of the rescue teams currently operating in Turkey and Syria are accompanied by dogs. Greece has sent three rescue dogs, while Mexico has sent 16 rescue dogs with their trainers, as have Croatia and Switzerland, which have sent 10 and 14 dogs, respectively.Trained dog with its trainer in the ruins. Photo: Reuters

How they are trained

"EMAK dogs begin training at the age of 5 months. They do not belong to a specific breed because each dog is unique. Malinois are wonderful dogs, but they can be a handful at times. German Shepherds and Labradors are both extremely obedient. Male dogs have more stamina in general, but females are more intelligent "According to sources from the NPC, their training is done in stages.

Also, the training takes place in ruins, where the dogs search for their trainers, who usually carry a ball in their hands.

"The entire process is done through play, and the training is implemented in different buildings each time. The service heads evaluate the dogs and their trainers every six years," according to EMAK sources.The trained dog of the rescue mission from Portugal. Photo: AP

A half-hour dog search is equivalent to a three-hour human walk

The use of dogs in rescue missions is critical, as studies have shown that half an hour of searching by a dog is equivalent to three hours of walking by a human.Rescue dogs from Germany's fire service stand outside Adana Airport in Turkey. Photo: Reuters

 Working dogs, on the other hand, have 100,000 times more sensitive sense of smell than humans due to the 300 million relative receptors in their noses (we have about 6 million).

They even have a special organ called the Jakobson organ, as do most animals. It is situated behind the palate and aids in the detection of hormones, pheromones, and other chemicals released by the body.

However, just because a dog has a good sense of smell does not automatically qualify it to participate in a rescue mission. It takes years of training to participate in such operations.South Korean rescuers and search dogs prepare to depart for Turkey. Photo: Reuters

"There are three types of search and rescue dogs. Those trained in 'open mountain search', avalanche missions, and dogs trained in the wet element, "Nikolaos Vavatsikos, a dog trainer who specializes in search and rescue says.

"These dogs are known as 'working dogs' and they are operationally ready after two years. They must be social and fearless, as these are essential characteristics. We will see various tunnels, ladders, swings, and other types of obstacles that the rescue dogs may encounter during their work in the training area," he adds, pointing out that there is a whole philosophy behind it, as rescue dogs have combined the most important things in their lives with humans, so they are basically completely loyal to their trainer.Portuguese rescuers pet their dog while waiting to board a plane to Turkey. Photo: AP

Air Scenting Technique
Mr. Vavatsikos points out that there are various training methods that can be followed, but the most common is called "Air Scenting".

Dogs who learn this method are essentially taught to search for live humans in a mountain, forest, park, or urban setting. The dogs typically work off-leash with their handlers and do not require a sample of clothing or other object containing the scent of the person being sought. These dogs can also operate in inclement weather for several hours while ignoring distractions such as wild animals and strange noises.The mission of EMAK/ Photo: AP

"Rescue dogs have gone through thousands of these drills before embarking on a real mission. The trainer always rewards his dog at the end of the exercise. However, in such difficult circumstances, as those currently prevailing in Turkey and Syria, this may be difficult. This, of course, will not stop a trained dog from searching the rubble "Mr. Vavatsikos points out that working dogs are retired at the age of ten.

Simultaneously, photos of rescue dogs searching for people in the wreckage are making the rounds on the internet, reminding us that a dog, whether a Labrador, a Golden Retriever, or a German Shepherd, is more than just a human's most loyal friend. Many times he is also his... savior.

 [This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  Turkey  |  Greece  |  earthquake

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