Training rescue dogs gaining popularity in Mexico due to earthquakes
Queretaro, Mexico, May 22 (EFE).- Amid the ruins of a building in the central Mexican city of Queretaro, Balam, Orly, Robinson and Rocky are four rescue dogs who are being trained by Mexican Red Cross canine handler Edgar Martinez, something that is gaining popularity in a country that is prone to earthquakes.
Balam and Orly are the best-known of the canine quartet. They are the ones who started their training with Athos, the rescue dog who lost his life in 2021 after being poisoned, and today they are paying their late colleague the greatest possible tribute: following in his footsteps to search for and rescue people after accidents and natural disasters.
The earthquake in Turkey in February that killed tens of thousands of people was their first chance to participate in a natural disaster rescue operation and today they are continuing their training even as they guide other dogs who are being familiarized with rescue duties by various companies and agencies.
The ruined building used to be a nightclub, but for the purpose of training the canine rescue team it’s been converted into an ideal replica of an earthquake-damaged structure within which the dogs are taught to search for people trapped in the rubble.
Martinez, one of the young trainers working on the team, hid himself under sheets of plywood and tin and other rubble while Balam – who participated in the Turkey rescue efforts – was kept away from the area so that he would not see where the trainer had secreted himself.
Once the dog was brought to the site, he ranged throughout the area, sniffing and seeking until he found the spot where Martinez was hiding and then he began to bark to show other human members of the rescue team that he had located someone, at the same time trying to move the debris off of Martinez, who praised him and – by way of reward – gave him a ball to play with.
“We call it a ‘waste dump.’ It’s the simulation of a destroyed building like after a quake, so here basically everything is the same; there are boards and sheets of metal, unstable situations, sharp objects,” Martinez told EFE.
The idea, he said, is to simulate a situation where a person is trapped under the debris so that the dog can practice doing what he’d be expected to do after a natural disaster like a temblor.
Rocky and Robinson are two other dogs on the team and they are guided by Orly and Balam, the latter being one of Athos’s offspring.
Athos became known nationwide in Mexico in 2022 since his poisoning death spurred the first criminal trial against animal mistreatment, with the person found guilty being sentenced to 10 years in prison.
Balam and Orly, who rescued four survivors from under the rubble in Turkey and located 36 corpses, nowadays are tasked with guiding the new dogs in various ways so that one day they, too, will be ready to join the rescue team.
“We also use them a lot to raise awareness among the public about the issue of animal rescue, which is something really important,” Martinez said.
The rescue dogs need daily training, although they might not be anywhere close to a disaster location. They need to stay ready for the call that could come at any moment from anywhere in the world, but their ongoing training goes beyond just rescues, since their socialization is also just as important.
That is why if the dog is not doing rescue training among simulated ruins, he or she must also work at other tasks like participating in public exhibitions and knowing how to behave with other people so that the public can interact with them and “so that they always remain friendly” with people, Martinez said.
Just a few weeks after coming back from Turkey, Martinez and his team left for Copacabana to certify four dogs who were trained by them and then delivered to the San Juan del Rio Fire Department, in Queretaro state.
Right now, the team is preparing once again to depart in the coming days for Guatemala where they will provide support for the national canine unit so that authorities there can select some dogs that, after training, will be sent for certification.