One by one handlers from across the country approach the rubble piles with their dogs, remove their collars, and give them the command to “Search!” or “Find Them!” and let loose the dogs. In a flash the dogs are easily climbing the piles, jumping from point to point, almost always with their noses to the ground. And within only a minute or less a dog has narrowed down an area and begins barking – they’ve located the first “victim” who rewards the dog with their favorite toy and lots of praise, as the dog returns to its handler in what is clearly a very “I did a good thing” trot where he is praised again for his work.
Watching this play out over and over again was amazing. Not a single dog hesitated, not even for a moment, going onto the piles. It didn’t matter how tall the piles were, what they consisted of (wood, concrete, metal, etc.), or how hot it was outside, the dogs took command and went on their way and each time took only a matter of minutes to locate the individual hiding in the rubble. What was most amazing of all is that none of these dogs were aware of where these “victims” were located. They did not watch as the people climbed in to holes and crevasse, covered themselves up with debris, and sometimes even went down ladders. But when the dogs were sent they found the people each and every time.
Seeing this take place from the sidelines was one thing, but having the opportunity to actually play one of the “victims” myself was something I couldn’t pass up. So I put on my own Search & Rescue Gear, climbed the pile, and found myself being ushered in to what was once a concrete pipe. But that wasn’t all, then on the outside they stuck a few wooden pallets in front of the opening – just to make it even more difficult on the dog that was going to be seeking me out. I couldn’t see what was going on around the pile, but I hear the “Search!” command given and I listened carefully. Within 90 seconds I heard lots of sniffing, then paws all around, some scratching above me, and then a K9 appeared at the front of the pipe and looked in to see me. He started barking wildly, pawing at the wood trying to dig his way in to me, and even though it was all an exercise and there was no real danger here I must say that hearing him come around and seeing him digging his way in to me was a relief. I cannot even begin to imagine what someone who would be in this situation in real-life would feel, but after repeating this experience several times over, I have an even greater respect for these dogs.