By Scott Ellis

When an earthquake hits, or a building collapses, the most important thing to do is find survivors as quickly as possible.

Often that means using special cameras that can “see” through rubble and debris to find trapped people. But sometimes, when there’s too much of it, a much more sensitive instrument is needed.

A dog’s nose.

In particular the highly trained noses of search-and-rescue dogs who can pick up the smell of a trapped human under layers of dirt, cement and more.

Golden retriever Will trains across elevated ladders, planks and wire with Search and Rescue Dogs Australia trainer, Julie Cowan guiding him. Photo: Elizabeth Clancy

Golden retriever Will trains across elevated ladders, planks and wire with Search and Rescue Dogs Australia trainer, Julie Cowan guiding him. Photo: Elizabeth Clancy

Panic stations

What is adrenalin?

It’s a hormone in your body that’s released when you’re feeling extreme emotions, particularly fear.

SOURCE Hormone Health Network

“When someone is trapped or has fallen or whatever, they panic and that panic is turned into adrenalin by the body,” says Julie Cowans, from Search and Rescue Dogs Australia.

“We train the dogs to look for the airborne scent of a person trapped and that adrenalin is what they pick up on.”
“They can go across a rubble pile and pick out where that scent is coming from very quickly.”

Five-year-old black labrador BB jumps into his rescue dog training in Victoria. Photo: SARDA

Five-year-old black labrador BB jumps into his rescue dog training in Victoria. Photo: SARDA

The famous five

Search and Rescue Dogs Australia has five search-and-rescue dogs ready to be sent to a disaster when needed.

Once there, they are fitted with a GPS tag so their handlers can track where they go, and then they’re let off the leash to do their work.

That could mean crawling into tiny gaps, digging, climbing up and down twisted rubble or even being lifted into position by a crane fitted to a special harness.

Volunteer search dog trainer, Adele, from NSW, hides in a barrel and closes the door. Will then follows the human scent to find her. Photo: Elizabeth Clancy

Volunteer search dog trainer, Adele, from NSW, hides in a barrel and closes the door. Will then follows the human scent to find her. Photo: Elizabeth Clancy

Making the grade

It’s a tough job, says Ms Cowan, and not all dogs make the grade.

“Only about one in 400 dogs are capable of doing this work,” she says.

“They have to be able to negotiate different obstacles and even be lifted into collapsed buildings by crane,” she says. “They also have to be able to work calmly and be focused in stressful situations.”

In October the Victorian government gave $21,000 to help train search-and-rescue dogs and buy better equipment for those already on duty.

“We’ve been running since 1994 and are all volunteers who beg or borrow whatever funds we can to get by,” says Mrs Cowan.

“This will help us upgrade our equipment, and keep the dogs trained and ready to go whenever they are needed and help with the three puppies we have in training.”

Golden retriever Will trains across elevated ladders, planks and wire with Search and Rescue Dogs Australia trainer, Julie Cowan guiding him. Photo: Elizabeth Clancy.

Golden retriever Will trains across elevated ladders, planks and wire with Search and Rescue Dogs Australia trainer, Julie Cowan guiding him. Photo: Elizabeth Clancy

Frida, the heroine dog

Search-and-rescue dogs are used around the world to find people trapped underground or in collapsed buildings after a disaster.

One of the most famous is Frida, a Mexican labrador retriever who has found 52 trapped people and saved 12 lives.

In September she was sent to Oaxaca and Mexico City after huge earthquakes in both cities and was welcomed as a sign of hope by the people who had lost so much.

By the time her rescue mission was over she had become so popular it was suggested a picture of her should replace the painter Diego Riviera on the Mexican 500 peso note!

Golden retriever Will, a rescue dog, goes through his paces at the SARDA training centre in Victoria. Photo: SARDA

Golden retriever Will, a rescue dog, goes through his paces at the SARDA training centre in Victoria. Photo: SARDA

1 Comment

  • dogs were also used for the same purpose in the war to sniff out Australian soldiers and if they were alive the dogs would bark. I think that dogs really have earned their title as mans best friend! I just can’t believe that one dog saved 12 lives and found 52 trapped people!

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