Sniffing under rubble and overseeing evacuations or combing events, and city streets for missing persons, it’s all in a day’s work for the furry recruits at Charity Search and Rescue who are being put through their paw paces to really be man’s best friend.
Time is really of the essence in missing person cases and a dog team can be a lifeline to those lost, trapped, or in distress. A well trained canine can also help families reclaim their lost loved ones.
“It’s a very distressing time for families when a person goes missing. There’s definitely a time factor here. Families are so relieved to have that person returned to them,” says Jack Kennedy, chairman of Charity Search and Rescue which has been in operation in Galway for over a year and has recently received charity status.
When New Yorker Jack moved to Galway three years ago he noticed that Ireland didn’t have a canine unit which was specifically dedicated and trained in urban search and rescue (USAR ) and, with the help of his German shepherd Lulu, he set about creating one.
Jack’s training began in Italy with the civil defence playing out scenarios of drowned people and live finds in the woods. Other areas he trained in included lost person behaviour, disaster management, and scent theory.
“When I came to Ireland I trained with SARDA (Search and Rescue Dog Association ) which is under Irish Mountain Rescue and trains dogs for wilderness and rural searches. We’re just for urban search and rescue, for example, in man-made disasters such as the collapse of a building or scaffolding, where a person is trapped under rubble, or a lost person in a city,” he said.
The team have been involved in 15 searches for three missing people in the past nine months. Kennedy believes that the training of dogs is vital as there are families who have been searching for their loved ones for over 20 years because there was no dog team available to them when that person initially went missing.
Other areas where dog teams are needed is in building evacuations, natural disasters such as floods, and large outdoor events such as the Tullamore Ploughing Championships where people get lost every year.
Training takes place in a fenced-in environment at the Galway Dog Club facility in Liosban Industrial Estate every Tuesday nights and then on Sundays they are taken out to various wooded and rocky locations around Galway.
“At the moment we have a Prague ratter, a small dog which is good for going into rubble. We also have two German shepherds as well as mixed breeds. We’re always looking for people and their dogs. We need very independent dogs which need minimal supervision. They also have to be tested on their intelligence and have a good temperament,” says Jack.
Before training begins the dogs must undergo a six week obedience course which is run by Michael O’Brian of the Galway Dog Club. This is to ensure that the dogs, and also their handlers, are up to the task of being part of this innovative search and rescue team.