If you or your loved one is ever trapped inside a building or buried under debris after disaster strikes, count on eight-year-old Don to find and rescue you.
The black labrador retriever is one of the 28 search and rescue specialists with the eight battalion of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF).
For him and the other furry mates on his team, risk is a part of their lives. A loving pat, a ‘shabaash’ (well done) and ‘very good’ are enough to make Don take on challenges that most humans would shy away from.
Be it a Tsunami in Japan, an earthquake in Nepal or a building collapse in Delhi, Don is your dog.
Well trained in search and rescue operations, he holds the distinction of having served the force both in the country and abroad.
“During his eight years of service, Don has played his role well. He went to Japan with the NDRF teams during Tsunami. He helped the force rescue victims during the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, saving 10 lives. Don also helped track people trapped under debris when a building collapsed in Delhi’s Laxmi Nagar. In all, he has saved nearly 15 lives,” said Hawaldar Resham Singh, Don’s trainer at the NDRF base in Ghaziabad.
Officials of NDRF say dogs, especially breeds such as German shepherds and labradors, have become an indispensable part of the force. Officials said a squad of two dogs always accompanies rescue teams.
“Initially, when the NDRF was set up, dogs from paramilitary forces were called. They were trained in activities like detecting explosives and narcotics. But the NDRF wanted dogs specifically trained to carry out search and rescue operations. Now, the canines are trained our way,” said PK Srivastava, NDRF Commandant.
“Dogs have become indispensable for our operations. They do not hesitate in performing their duties even in dangerous situations,” Srivastava said.
Officials of the NDRF said they get puppies from registered markets. Unlike the Army, the force does not have a breeding centre of its own.
The force takes a lot of efforts to train these dogs. Apart from rigorous coaching by in-house trainers, they are trained by experts from foreign countries, they said.
The dogs are kept in air-conditioned kennels and are served dog food bought in sacks of 15kg, each costing `6,000. They are not fed non-vegetarian food and each of these dogs has a handler and an assistant handler.
Once a dog completes 10 years with the force, he/she is taken off duty and are auctioned off.