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Dogs Play a Vital Role as Rescuers

March 20, 2014

Sandi, a border collie born in 1998, was a very special dog. A new owner who had adopted Sandi from a California shelter soon realized that his boundless energy was too much for a small household. Consequently, Sandi got the chance to train as a disaster search and recovery dog.

His temperament proved ideal for the job. After socialization and obedience training, Sandi graduated to a more intense, specialized education in disaster recovery. With his human partner, Sandi received advanced-level Federal Emergency Management Agency certification in 2001.

As part of a California county fire department task force, Sandi assisted in search and recovery missions that included responding to the 2003 earthquake in Iran and Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Sandi died in 2013, after a long and productive life. He is only one example of the exemplary ways in which trained dogs have performed alongside humans in disaster rescue efforts.

Immediately after the attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, FEMA deployed teams of rescue dogs and their human handlers from all over the United States. Working side by side with human first responders, nearly 100 dogs tried to locate survivors, and when that failed, they served as a source of comfort to the human beings around them. Ten years later, photographer Charlotte Dumas published the book Retrieved, a collection of portraits of the surviving dogs from that mission. By the time of publication, only a dozen were still alive, and the book honors their contributions in a series of moving photographs.

Search and rescue dogs can help in numerous other ways. They can locate lost children or older adults experiencing dementia, assist with forensics at crime scenes, or find a person buried in snow after a ski accident. The intelligence, professionalism, and dedication of trained search and rescue dogs remain vital to life-saving efforts around the world.


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