In July 2016, a four-storey building collapsed in Meerut, a satellite town near Delhi. Rescue operation went on for 24 hours and when everyone thought all under the debris were dead, it was Don who kept barking drawing attention to one particular point.
The personnel of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) cordoned off the area and found a man, still breathing after removing four-five slabs of rubble. The man was taken to hospital and is now perfectly fine.
In the same month, several people were killed in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand due to a landslide. An NDRF team was there helping the survivors. Don once again directed the rescuers to life under the rubble. This time it was a cow — alive but unable to move.
Don is now nearing retirement, but the canine still doesn’t shy away from rushing to a disaster site to save lives. From the 2010 Lalita Park building collapse in Delhi to 2013 Uttarakhand flash floods, the 2015 Nepal earthquake to the Kanpur rail tragedy in 2016, he has served everywhere and saved over 100 lives.
The dog squad of NDRF, which was raised in 2006, is fast becoming country’s only force to sniff lives under the rubble. Earlier ITBP used to train the dogs. NDRF opened its training centre in 2011.
Like Don there are Sparky, Rubeena, Honey, Johnson and Bunty who are trained four hours daily to help in rescue operations.
“Since dogs have been helpful in saving lives, we are expanding the squad. Before induction, they are trained for 56 weeks, where they are made accustomed to work in difficult circumstances. Usually, dog squads are trained to sniff explosives but this squad is different as it works on smell coming out from those alive, be it human or animal. They are trained by handlers in a way that they only sniff lives and nothing else when there is a disaster,” said RK Pachnanda, director general of NDRF.
NDRF has 12 battalions and each battalion is mandated to have 36 dogs. Currently, however, there are only about 240 Labradors and German Shepherds. NDRF is planning to induct more Belgian Shepherds and Golden Retrievers.
“The dog squad is now part of every rescue operation. During Nepal earthquake, our squad stayed there for 10 days and when there was no sign of life, the dogs sniffed and helped rescue people three days after the tragedy,” Pachnanda said.
They are air lifted to disaster sites.
According to Dr Ashok, who takes care of the health of these dogs, wind speed is a crucial factor in rescue and handlers check the wind direction before letting the dogs go close to the disaster site.
“To ensure that the dogs get used to human smell, handlers sleep with them during the training period. In training, we hide our staff under rubble and dogs perfect the art of finding them. Each dog serves for over 10 years,” said Resham Singh, a dog handler.
Every dog is given a name and a microchip is tied to them for identification. They get rewarded for good work.
During training, they are made to climb obstacles and work in the dark for five-six hours. Cold weather and rain often affect the performance of dogs and they are given rest when the weather is bad.
Every dog has three handlers so that in case of transfer, they do not feel lonely.