Dubai hosts IRO Rescue dogs - United Arab Emirates

Dubai Police K9 hosts IRO for a veterinarian study from the Munich University. The Saint Bernard dog is most famous rescue dog in the world, but since the monks of Switzerland rescued lost people in the mountains, a lot of time has past and more other breeds have proven to do the work even much better. But certain breeds might be able to work better in the snow as being much lighter in weight, other breeds are more apt to rescue people in water, others are better climbers. One fact is that most important of all is that they should have super noses and a will to search and climb.

A lot of dogs are working fantastic in open fields and mountains, depending on where they live and are used to the climatic conditions in their own area, be it cold or mountainous or flat and wet. But the International Rescue Dog Organization needs a lot of dogs that should be able to work in those areas where most earthquakes and disasters appear, and very often this is in countries where it is very hot. Usually in these countries and disaster areas people are poor and have no time to spend with dogs to train them as rescue dogs and sometimes there religion restrictions towards dogs. It is not easy to see if dogs from the richer part of the world are able to perform as good as they do at home. The IRO is still a young organization and not all countries have teams, let stand that they have a club or national organization, member or the IRO. Fortunately one member country fulfills all the criteria, a hot climate, an associated organization and the means to host foreign dogs and handlers to perform an extended test in depth, Dubai. The Veterinarian Department of the Munich University was lending its expertise and delegated a team with the purpose to find out how working dogs behave in very hot circumstances, how long the are able to work and how reliable the results of a search are.

20 Teams (dog and handler) from 7 different countries were invited to come over to the Emirates: 1 From Holland, one from Croatia, 4 from Slovenia, 4 from Austria, 5 from Germany, 1 from Slovakia and 4 from Hungary. 5 More teams from the Dubai Police K9 would also participate in the test, which would offer an extra opportunity to the University team to compare results of local dogs to the ones from Europe. The European teams were expected in Vienna where the dogs would be put on cargo to Dubai with the very same flight as the teams. For several dogs it was their first flight and a lot of handlers were obviously a little worried about how their dogs would react on this experience. Of course, on occasion of a disaster mission, it would be the very same situation. It was an experience that they should undergo anyway if it was for a real rescue mission. Of course the Emirates Cargo Company would do everything to bring this to a good end and the IRO was treated as a special guest, they were welcomed by the captain of the plane and the crew and the handlers had special seats reserved in the back of the plane.

Once arrived in Dubai the handlers were reassured that all dogs were well and safe and brought to the Dubai Police camp in air-conditioned vans. This was a little disappointing for the handlers as they had hoped to see their dogs immediately after landing. It took several hours more before they were brought to the kennels and play with their dogs. It was a moving moment of joy when they were finally united. For a dog this must have been a very traumatic experience, being separated from their master, the flight, being brought to a kennel while most of them are used to share the house at home, etc., a lot of first-ever-experiences for both master and dog. But it proved again how flexible dogs can be as on the first working day most dogs were already used to their new situation and environment.

The K-9 kennels were of a very high standard, clean, provided with a box for food and personal stuff, a separate medical box, and an inside air-conditioned litter. All kennels were connected from inside with a corridor and cleaned and disinfected every morning. A veterinarian was permanently available. The K-9 training camp has a lot of kennels and dogs but still enough space available to host all IRO dogs. There was no lack of space at all. The kennels were situated at the farthest end of the camp some 200m away from the conference hall and the offices. There was also a special parking place for the air-conditioned dog vans. Everything was connected with roads and the whole area was fenced as can be expected from a training camp. In between the buildings were 4 terrains of which 3 were used as search areas with hiding places for victims. Although less impressive as in Ljubljana they looked very much like what can be expected in areas where in reality most victims are made due to catastrophes and where people build houses with a few old bricks, wood and fabric and materials collected from the streets, and on certain places used cars were turned upside down.

The veterinarian team had a small room available in one of the kennels to improvise their laboratory while the dogs were examined in the entrance hall. It was all comfortable enough to do all the tests that were planned.

The teams were divided in two groups. The first group was working the first 3 days while the handlers of group two were serving as victims and their dogs would rest. Friday was a break day (= Sunday for the Muslims). On Sunday activities were restarted with the dogs of group two and the handlers of group one serving as victims this time.

All working dogs needed to swallow a very small blue metal pill that migrated through the body and constantly emitted the body temperature that was captured by the instruments they wore in a small bag attached to a harness. The handlers were supposed to check this regularly.

Blood was taken from every dog before and after working as well as a saliva sample to measure stress. The members of the veterinarian team were also present at the working fields and every test was taken on film so that later everything could be combined and compared again later to the lab results.

It was very hot, 38° in the shade and over 45° in the sun. The area was by definition sand and the temperature of the soil could raise over 60°. Probably for this reason most dogs tried to have their feet not on the soil for a long time and jumped more then they used to do. Breeds with fur between the toes had fewer problems. Every dog was supposed to search 3 different areas and go on during 20 minutes, even if they had found all victims. This was needed for the uniformity of the medical tests and for some fast working dogs this was sometimes a little bit confusing as they needed to re-examine the very same place twice until their time was over. All handlers were free to withdraw their dogs if they noticed signs of fatigue or exhaustion and this happened at least once. Except from a few burned soles, no dogs were injured.

Compared to Ljubljana there were no significant differences, some breeds were working very fast, others worked more slowly. It was nice to see some dogs working with the wind in the back, missing the victim while passing by very closely until they had the wind in the front, suddenly picking up human smell and then hurrying without hesitation straight to the place where the victim was hidden. Some dogs were working much more independent, crossing the area sometimes a little un-coordinated while others stayed more closely to their master, regularly looking back to their master to get new instructions ad directions. Both ways have advantages and disadvantages. The first groups work faster, but risk to loose sight of their master, especially in darkness and they usually take more risks and can be injured more easily. The second group, that stays much closer, forces the handler to cross the rubble themselves thus exposing their master to possible danger.

On Wednesday and Saturday the teams were brought to the mountains of Hatta, in the desert, to do a night search. The Dubai police used large trucks with huge and powerful spotlights to illuminate the area. It was pretty impressive. The area was very rocky and covered with bushes, some with sharp thorns. Snakes are very common there and during the night they use to come out from their shelters. Fortunately no incidents happened. For the veterinarian study this exercise offered the opportunity to do the very same tests under more comfortable circumstances with regard to temperatures and make comparisons.

Friday was a day off, the Sabbath day for the Muslims. After a visit to the kennels to let the dogs out and a short playtime, the handlers were free to explore Dubai. Some went to the beach, others went shopping in the neighboring shopping centre, one of the biggest in the world while others went to ski in the biggest indoor ski run in the world, freezing inside while outside the sun burns with over 45°. At 7 in the evening K-9 Police team invited us for a walking tour in the old restored part of Dubai followed by a boat trip and dinner in the harbor.

As this was already the fourth day together with our Arab hosts, friendships were sealed and invitations and ID cards were exchanged.

On Saturday the second group along with the team of the Dubai Police was on term, but it was my day to return home. I left with mixed feelings to the airport. The Dubai police team showed us what they understand by hospitality and generosity. Everything was arranged perfectly to host the IRO for this study, everyone was treated as VIP guest, timing was perfect and all means were provided not only for the handlers but also for the dogs.

This shows again that even if there is a big difference in culture and customs, there is always a bridge that unites us. We all have common needs and duties and it takes only very little efforts to show respect to one another's habits and overcome misunderstandings that create so many conflicts all over the world. The IRO is and International Humanitarian Organization created to help people without distinction of race, skin color or religion. Dogs don't make that distinction either. Here in Dubai we were given the opportunity to test not only how dogs work in different areas of the world but also to prove that the world is much smaller then we think and that friendship has nothing to do with culture or religion.

A special report on the medical results, will be published later.

Text and photos: Karl DONVIL