Canines are part of global rescue effort in Nepal

Search and Rescue Dog Association of Alberta® Active Dog Members July 2013

The 7.8 magnitude quake that hit Nepal on April 25 has impacted 8 million people. The death count is at least 5,500. The injured number 11,000, reports the BBC.

This week, search and rescue dogs (SARs) and their handlers have jumped on planes from all over the world in response.

The Canadian Medical Assistance Team (CMAT) sent its initial disaster assessment team along with members of the British Columbia Canine and Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) to the site, reports CMAT’s website.

China sent a 62-member rescue team, along with six “sniffer dogs,” reports The Diplomat.

International Search and Rescue Germany sent a team of 52 relief workers, including several dog squads, reports U.S. News & World.

Poland sent 12 search and rescue dogs with 81 firefighters, heavy equipment, and medics, reports Radio Poland.

The United States sent a 57-member team, including six Canine-Firefighter Search teams from California trained by the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation (SDF), reports the SDF website.

Nepal’s own Search and Rescue Dog Handlers Academy (SAR) is setting up base camp, despite adverse weather conditions, for its 9 SARDOG teams, reports its website.

SARs, it appears, are becoming a common part of rescue work, and with good reason.

All humans emit microscopic particles of human scent that become airborne. As they travel, those scents are diluted. Search dogs have been trained to detect those trail and airborne scents and follow them to the source, notes the Virginia Search and Rescue Dog Association.

Like every other profession, there are SAR specialties: trailing, air-scent and cadaver dogs (trained to locate buried or concealed human remains). And as with any worker, the most valuable SARs are cross-trained.

There have been several studies about SARs.

A study conducted by the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada in 1999, included eight dog-and-handler teams who participated in a two-month training program that used human and animal remains in various stages of decay as scent sources. Recovery rates ranged between 57% and 100%, indicating that with proper training, cadaver dogs could make significant contributions.

Time, however, has proven their effectiveness, but with a potential caveat.

In 2011, a University of California at Davis (UC Davis) study explored whether the beliefs of a search dog’s handler could affect team performance. The study confirmed that handlers’ beliefs that scent was present impacted searches. Specifically, human more than dog influences affected alert locations, i.e., the location of the target odor/scent. The researchers emphasized the importance of understanding both human and human–dog social cognitive factors in applied situations.

Additionally, SARs may be better able to handle the work.

The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine is studying the medical and behavioral impacts of 9/11 on its SARs. The ongoing medical surveillance study, whose results were published in 2004 and again in 2010, showed that the dogs had no adverse health or behavioral consequences tied to the experience, reports VIN News.

In fact, as one of Ground Zero’s SAR handlers told the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation about his SAR, “[Kaiser] seemed happiest when he was on the pile working.”

Photo courtesy of Jim Dobie Photography, Copyright © 2015 Jim Dobie Photography