Elite dog unit receives advanced training for disaster response

An Ankara-based nongovernmental organization is currently training 14 dogs for active deployment in search and rescue operations, particularly during natural disasters, most notably earthquakes.

Following the devastating 6.6 magnitude earthquake in the western province of İzmir in 2020 that killed 117 people, the Association for Social Development and Aid Mobilization (SGDD-ASAM) established an in-house search and rescue team.

Central to this team are Belgian Malinois, a dog breed renowned for their live human search capabilities.

Currently, the association's efforts extend beyond its immediate operations to training dogs for various other entities, including municipalities, fire departments and smaller organizations.

The trainers also adopt purebred puppies to ensure that future generations of dogs are well-equipped for these critical roles.

During last year's devastating earthquakes in the country's south, dogs rescued 30 individuals alive, although one of the dogs, Vira, sustained injuries during the operations.

The International Canine Federation has lauded the team, awarding them the top honor in "obedience and live human search."

Hakan Özden, a 42-year-old trainer who previously worked as a chef in numerous restaurants, made an abrupt career change six years ago to become a dog trainer. He emphasizes that genuine affection for the dogs is paramount for success in this field, adding that that the most critical attribute of a search and rescue dog is its olfactory prowess.

"In the dogs we train, the sense of smell is of utmost importance. Our selection process for puppies begins five days after they are born, even before their eyes open. We place the mother a meter away and release the puppies," Özden...

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