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Trained dogs offer sniff of a chance for quake survivors
www.chinaview.cn 2008-05-19 09:41:35
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Special report: Strong Earthquake Jolts SW China กกกก

    BEIJING, May 19 -- It was more than 72 hours after the quake and no cry for help could be heard from the rubble of Beichuan Middle School amid the din of heavy machinery around.

    A rescue team from Chongqing was doing a last search on the school's collapsed main building, giving up hope of any survivors - when a sniffer dog barked.

Firefighters conduct rescue operation with search dogs at Mianzhu of southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 18, 2008.

Firefighters conduct rescue operation with search dogs at Mianzhu of southwest China's Sichuan Province on May 18, 2008. (Xinhua Photo)
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    Rescuers started moving heavy concrete chunks at the spot and two hours later, they found a girl in coma, her legs wounded badly, but still breathing.

    She was reportedly the last survivor found in the school.

    The efficacy and efficiency of sniffer dogs have become legion in the quake-hit areas of Sichuan, where they are often seen as the last line of hope.

    More than 100 are working day and night, searching for signs of lingering life from corners and crevices that are beyond the reach of human senses.

    "I've had my dog ever since he was a couple of months old but he's never been in such surroundings - the smell of bodies, the aftershocks and endless noise of power generators and hydraulic machines," said Qi Zhigang, keeper of Si Dao, a 6-year-old black Labrador.

A Member of the Japanese rescue team search for buried people with the help of a sniffer dog at a collapsed buidling in Qushan Town, seat of the worst-hit Beichuan county, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 18, 2008.

A Member of the Japanese rescue team search for buried people with the help of a sniffer dog at a collapsed buidling in Qushan Town, seat of the worst-hit Beichuan county, southwest China's Sichuan Province, May 18, 2008.  (Xinhua Photo)
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    Qi, a firefighter from Jiangsu, has been in Beichuan since last Thursday with a team accompanied by eight sniffer dogs.

    "Si Dao has been searching on and on, and when he detects something he barks and scratches the rubble," Qi said. "He eats one meal per day and has slept only a couple of hours since we got here. He's really working hard."

    Since Friday, Si Dao has managed to locate a few survivors but most of those he sniffed out were dead, Qi added.

    As time runs out for survivors, rescue workers are pinning their hopes on dogs to guide men and machines to trapped people.

    In Dujiangyan, a rescue team with seven dogs from Shandong province has soldiered on for almost 80 straight hours since last Tuesday and almost scoured the entire city.

    Many dogs have suffered injuries on their mouths or paws by broken glass, steel bars or nails in the debris. Typically, their keepers and they have a couple of hours' nap a day in a tent and then get back to work.

    Silver Tiger, one of the seven sniffer dogs from Yunnan province, even caught a cold last Friday after strenuous efforts - his keeper fed him pills and believes he will recover soon.

    Then, there is the mental stress. A dog from Zhejiang province started sobbing when searching through a building in the city of Mianzhu.

    Rescuers then found two bodies underneath the debris the dog pointed to.

    "The dog has been taught to find people alive. He's never seen so many dead and he must be very grief-stricken," the dog's keeper said.

    There is no official count how many people have been saved by the dogs but they certainly had a hand to play in most of the miracle rescues.

    In the hard-hit city of Dujiangyan, the rescue team from Shandong sent two dogs to a collapsed factory building last Thursday after hearing there might be survivors. In just five minutes, the dogs pointed to four targets in the debris; and after four hours, rescuers dug out one survivor and four bodies.

    "Every dog we brought has performed well," said Tang Hu, head of a fire brigade from Qingdao, Shandong province. His dogs have helped find dozens trapped in debris in Dujiangyan, including a pregnant woman and her mother under a collapsed 5-story building.

    The dogs have become heroes in the city. Many residents are refusing to clear debris unless a dog has confirmed there is nobody left underneath. Some families have cut the rations of their pet dogs to supply the professionals.

    The canine efforts are certainly being recognized and appreciated.

    The Ministry of Public Security ordered 100 pairs of special sheaths to be sent to Sichuan to protect the dogs from further injuries.

    China Eastern Airlines ignored rules for two dogs from Jiangsu: The rescue team did not carry cages for two dogs which should go into the freight cabin; instead, they traveled the same way passengers do.

    The dogs mainly came from three top bases: The Beijing Military Command, the China Seismological Bureau and the fire department in the northeastern city of Shenyang apart from fire departments around the country.

    There was in international flavor over the weekend as dogs from Japan, Russia, Singapore and South Korea landed together with their handlers and specialist equipment.

    Private organizations, too, are keen to contribute to the rescue mission.

    The Hangzhou Fire-fighting Sniffer Dogs Association - arguably the only such private society in the country - sent a German shepherd and a golden retriever just hours after the quake.

    (Source: China Daily)