Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Canines to the Rescue

Magazine article Parks & Recreation

Canines to the Rescue

Article excerpt

In a crisis, sometimes it's OK for things to go to the dogs.

When a terrorist-controlled passenger jet struck the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, on September 1 1, 2001, the entire Washington, D.C, metro region immediately sent emergency responded to the site. It wasn't until a few hours later, though, that one of the most highly trained search teams arrived on the scene ... and these members had four legs. Canines from the Virginia Task Force 1 Unit, an urban search and rescue team based in Fairfax, Virginia, were sent to crawl through piles of rubble to find survivors.

"Our dogs aren't first responders," explains lead trainer Sonja Heritage. "They become the next phase of search and rescue, looking for those that may be trapped. Unfortunately, in this situation, there was just too much heat and fire to find anything."

Heritage is currently handling three dogs on the task force, all trained to charge into emergency situations and look for survivors. "They're actually very highmaintenance, high-energy dogs," says Lt. Buck Best, search team manager. "They're the ones in the litter that are driving you crazy." But relentless energy and a big personality are necessary to undergo the rigorous training and dedication needed for rescue work.

These particular rescue dogs are trained to work with live scents and are some of the best search dogs in the world, having been deployed to areas like Haiti, China, and Turkey. They're trained to look for survivors rather than remains. "We don't really know why they won't search for a dead body," Heritage says, "but scientists suspect that after someone has passed away, certain chemistry changes. The dogs want nothing to do with it." They're deployed after natural disasters and terrorist attacks, any emergency where humans may be trapped. And although the dogs are placed in dire situations, they see it as nothing more than a game. …

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