An earthquake rumbles, a building collapses, a storm brings destruction, a bomb reduces a building to rubble... almost before the dust settles, the K9 team is on the scene to search for the missing.

With a sense of smell far more powerful than man’s and an ability to find nooks and crannies humans cannot penetrate, the job of these dogs is to save lives and bring comfort to people whose friends and relatives have fallen victim to some sort of tragedy.

Search and rescue dogs are the hard-working heroes of disaster relief, along with their handlers, but it’s all a game to these talented canines.

Finding a victim brings a reward – a hug, a treat, a tussle with a favourite toy. The dogs live for the praise, even though it must sometimes be muted in deference to grief. As long as it remains a game, these dogs will work until they drop!

Two Urban Search and Rescue dogs, Csiki and Dino, will now form part of the Civil Protection Department’s USAR dog section, courtesy of Safety and Security Management and Alphaguard International. One of them was procured by the government and the other donated.

A press conference was held recently in the newly-refurbished dog section’s grounds within the CPD HQ at Ta’ Kandja, Siġġiewi, attended by Justice Minister Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, Civil Protection Department director Patrick Murgo, K9 Unit Commanding Officer John Gera and CPD Station Officer James Newell.

Dr Mifsud Bonnici said: “The live TV images we saw of the Japan tsunami, followed by the many quake aftershocks, brought a stark reminder of how powerless man can be in dealing with the brute force of nature. I am informed that world demand for such trained dogs has soared following this disaster. Therefore, I sincerely thank both the security companies for their kind donation of a second dog to the CPD”.

Simon Soler, director, Safety and Security Management, expressed his appreciation to the director of the CPD for entrusting his company, alongside its partner Alphaguard International, with the procurement of an urban search and rescue dog.

“Our partner, Alphaguard International, has a proven track record and has been consistent in providing reliable dog handling training for the use of narcotic and explosive detection as well as public order. This is not our first experience of the kind as we have had other successful opportunities in other countries,” said Mr Soler.

Search and rescue handlers also needed training to communicate with the dogs, he said. Over the past few months the company therefore gave the opportunity to Mr Gera to visit the facilities abroad and train alongside foreign professional handlers and trainers.

Meanwhile, Mr Murgo said the CPD was always looking for new tools to improve the operations of search and rescue “so that the Maltese public can have their mind at rest”.

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