Cedar Rapids Dogs Train For Disaster
By Addison Speck, Reporter
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - When disaster strikes, sometimes humans need some extra help saving lives. That's when some of the 250 certified FEMA dogs in the country come to the rescue. The dogs train to find people trapped inside homes and piles of debris. "They can locate a person in a devastated area very quickly and respond very quickly," said Mitch Magill, with Iowa Task Force One.
On Wednesday, KCRG watched as Magill and Scott Hofstetter took turns hiding in a pile of rubble. "We teach them that live human scent gives them a toy. This is all a game and what they are looking for is someone to give them that toy," said Magill. "Their training is very unique and there isn't many dogs that can accomplish this task," added Hofstetter.
It was like watching the fastest game of hide in seek. In seconds, the two dogs found what they were looking for. "You can have a dog cover an acre pile in about a 20th of the time it would take a person to walk across the pile," said Magill. While a disaster victim won't have a toy, the training prepares the dogs to find people in piles of debris. Magill points to the flood of 2008 as an example of how useful the dogs can be. "They went in houses we couldn't go in. We could send our dogs in the front door and direct them all throughout the house to locate live people in there," he said.
At least once every two weeks, the two dogs come to a designated site in Cedar Rapids to train. But they're taken to different areas across the country so they don't get too accustomed to one spot. "They very easily become accustomed to their own pile so they know where all the holes are at and which is the fastest way to cross over the pile," said Hofstetter.
Wyakin and Hank are two of just five task dogs in Iowa whose day’s work is more than fetching a ball, but saving lives. "That's what their life is dedicated to," said Magill. Disaster Dogs of Iowa is the non-profit that helps fund the dogs training and travel. For more information on the organization you can visit the Disaster Dogs of Iowa website at www.disasterdogsofiowa.org.
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