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Philippines trains pet dogs for search and rescue
  • | AFP | April 12, 2024 08:16 PM
With her owner holding her leash, Philippine pooch Hazel sniffs through rubble in a simulated search for survivors of a major earthquake in the capital Manila.

This photo taken on April 7, 2024 shows participants and their dogs taking part in a search and rescue program in Taguig, metro Manila.

Hazel is taking part in a programme training pet dogs and their owners in search and rescue so they can be deployed in the aftermath of a disaster.

Every Sunday, around 46 mongrels and purebreds of all sizes are put through their paces by volunteer trainers at a facility in suburban Manila where they learn to find people, scale ladders, and bound over wooden structures.

Philippine disaster agencies already have search and rescue dogs that are deployed when disasters strike the archipelago nation.

But there are concerns that there might not be enough of them if a major earthquake were to hit the sprawling metropolis of Manila.

Hazel, who was a skinny street mutt before she was adopted by her owner Nathalia Chua, lacks the pedigree of some of her classmates.

But she shows plenty of enthusiasm as she follows instructions to search rubble, overturned water drums and small wooden huts.

The three-year-old barks and wags her tail when she finds a person hiding in a drum, drawing cheers from trainers and back rubs from Chua.

"My end goal with Hazel is just to be as prepared as possible if the 'big one' comes," Chua, 17, told AFP, referring to a major earthquake seismologists predict could strike the city one day.

Manila is vulnerable to quakes due to its location on the West Valley Fault and its proximity to the Manila Trench off the main island of Luzon.

Seismologists believe the movement of either one could trigger a major earthquake in the city of more than 13 million people that could kill tens of thousands.

The MMDA K-9 Corps volunteer group has trained around 700 pet dogs since it began the programme in 2016.

It aims to train at least 3,400 pet dogs in search and rescue across the city.

"We all know that for the 'big one'... we really need to be prepared," said trainer Katrina Florece, 25, at the training facility owned by the government's Metropolitan Manila Development Authority.

Hazel was malnourished and fearful when Chua found her in 2021 during a family holiday on the western island of Palawan.

The search and rescue training has helped her become calmer and more confident.

"She loves it," Chua said. "I think even if the dog doesn't end up enjoying search and rescue, joining this is a great opportunity to learn and bond with your dog."

Dogs have to complete at least 12 training sessions before they can be deployed in real-life disaster response operations.

American chef Jon Hrinyak, 40, regularly brings his German Shepherd Oly to the training in the hope that they might be able to save someone's life one day.

"You hope that when something happens... we can be there to assist someone," Hrinyak said.

"A single life that we can help is worth it."

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