When we start looking at the ultimate dog friendly service, search and rescue dogs, it is very easy to get sidetracked by the fascinating stories of specific breeds such as the St Bernard and the Newfoundland. Well, we’ve been there and done that so now let’s take a look at SAR dogs in general. Several different breeds are employed in this kind of work, none of them as specialised as the two we’ve considered so far.
In fact even in snowy mountain country with high incidence of avalanches the St Bernard’s role has been largely taken over by smaller, more agile breeds, such as the German Shepherd, which are still big enough to have the strength needed but are lighter and much easier to transport quickly. However, for rescue from water, there is really no replacement for the Newfoundland.
Unofficial SAR dogs have even been portrayed in popular fiction. Everyone over a certain age will remember the screen star, “Lassie”. That said, even some younger folk will remember, “Skippy the Bush Kangaroo”. However, as far as can be ascertained, no-one has ever actually trained SAR kangaroos in real life!
Dogs, on the other hand, have played an essential part in search and rescue operations ever since the monks of the St Bernard Hospice first started to use them in the 17th Century. Their work in the treacherous St. Bernard’s Pass area is the earliest recorded canine rescue activity.
In Victorian times and earlier, Bloodhounds were used to track down fugitives and find bodies so by the time war broke out in Europe in 1914 the value of the canine sense of smell and acute hearing was already well appreciated. Amid the dreadful chaos, carnage, mud and debris of the Western Front many wounded men were only found and brought to relative safety due to the expertise of specially trained search and rescue dogs. The armies involved were not alone in their use of canine support. The Red Cross workers also employed dogs to assist them in their missions of mercy.
When peace was again shattered by World War II the same kind of work was again undertaken by rescue dogs. Although the pattern of warfare had altered from the entrenched stalemate of WWI to the fast moving actions of the 1940s, wounded soldiers still needed to be located and rescued. As the war progressed, the deployment of US troops led to the establishment of the Dogs for Defense Program in America.
There the dogs were trained for the same kind of work and some other military tasks as well. A number of different breeds were employed but, originally, the majority were Newfoundlands.
After hostilities ceased in 1945, life in Europe began to return to some sort of normality. The military on both sides of the Atlantic continued to develop their dog training activities for various purposes including search and rescue.
Civilian search and rescue organisations were quick to recognise the value of canine assistance now that people had not only the freedom but also the leisure time to visit more remote areas and inevitably, on occasions get themselves into difficulties. In Switzerland the alpine regions provide plenty of opportunities for people to suffer injuries and, worst of all, on occasions become the victims of avalanches. When that happens they need to be found and dug out quickly if they are to survive.
The Swiss Alpine Club, which undertakes this vital work, originally used to search by prodding with a long pole into the snow in the hope of hitting a person who lay buried beneath. This was literally a “hit or miss” system and was far from satisfactory. They soon found that rescue dogs provided a much quicker and more certain method and their use quickly became the preferred option.
Very soon other search and rescue groups throughout the Alps followed suit. However, it is not only in the Alps that SAR dogs are now an essential part of every team dedicated to finding and rescuing people in remote and difficult terrain. All over Great Britain these four legged Samaritans are on readiness to go out at a moment’s notice when needed. Pups are constantly being trained ready to take over when old age overtakes them.
Dogs of several breeds undertake this sort of work, German shepherds may be the best known to us, the general public, but Labradors, Golden retrievers and Border collies are all out there doing sterling work. They work in different ways which is one reason for the variety of breeds. Some are trail dogs, following a scent trail on the ground; others follow scent in the air. The canine nose is a wonderful creation. Don’t forget the acute hearing of the species though. Faint cries for help will be picked up by a dog’s ears long before his or her human handler will hear them.
SAR dogs have proved their value in many different situations. Following countless earthquakes around the world, hurricanes and similar natural disasters, they are there helping to locate survivors and indeed the dead so they can receive proper burial or cremation. The aftermath of terrorist attacks too such as 9/11 in America, the London Underground attack and the Madrid bombing sees search and rescue dogs getting in there and finding the victims.
Many of the dog friendly organisations that train and employ SAR dogs are made up of unpaid volunteers. Others are part of the professional, full-time emergency services. The level of professionalism is common to both, humans and dogs!
This article was provided by freelance copywriter uk, Pete Hopper of Write For You.
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|Sunday, September 26. 2021|