KATHMANDU, Nepal— On April 25, 2015, a devastating earthquake with a magnitude of 7.8 on the Richter scale hit Nepal. The center of the earthquake was less than 50 miles from Nepal’s capital city, Kathmandu. More than 8,000 people died due to the earthquake, and there was little time for recovery and rebuilding.
On May 12, a second earthquake struck Nepal. This second earthquake was a 7.3 magnitude on the Richter scale and was centered between Kathmandu and Mt.Everest. The earthquake heavily impacted the people of Kathmandu and those living at the foothills of the Himalayas.
The Nepal earthquakes injured more than 14,000 people and damaged over 760,000 homes; there was a great concern that many were trapped underneath the debris and fallen buildings. Despite the efforts of search and rescue teams and technology, people were still believed to be trapped because they could not be seen or heard.
The failure to locate the trapped survivors led to many countries dispatching canine search and rescue teams. Among these countries were the USA, India, Spain, France and Japan. Each of these countries sent search dogs and their handlers to help locate earthquake survivors. Many of these search teams were successful in rescuing trapped survivors. One of these teams rescued an 18-year-old named Pemba Tamang who was trapped under a seven story building in Kathmandu. The team that rescued Pemba Tamang was comprised of a firefighting Californian named Andrew Olvera and his dog Stetson.
When it comes to search and rescue, a dog’s sense of smell is a benefit to human rescue teams; a dog is able to find both unconscious and conscious victims using their keen sense of smell. Aside from their keen sense of smell, dogs become a greater asset in search and rescue missions due to their size. Their size allows them to navigate through small spaces that humans can not fit.
As Teresa MacPherson, a dog handler from Virginia, states, “Many dogs are selected because they have what is called a high ‘toy drive’—they’re very playful from a young age. Dogs who exhibit this characteristic are more likely to view search and rescue missions as fun, and are consequently the most successful at finding survivors.”
Search and rescue teams are not only beneficial to the people being found, but they are also beneficial to the dogs as well. Many search and rescue teams are composed of former shelter dogs. According to the Search Dog Foundation, once the dogs are recruited to a search and rescue team, they are given six months of intensive training in order to learn disaster search skills and to bond with their handler. They then live with their handlers and are called on missions when disasters strike.
Pemba Tamang is not the only person who has been found due to the utilization of dogs by search and rescue teams. A team working with DART (The USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team) rescued a 14-year-old boy from the rubble in Kathmandu five days after the first earthquake. After the second earthquake, DART managed to locate a 41-year-old woman who was trapped as well.
Search and Rescue teams are utilized all over the world. Rescue teams and their dogs have helped locate survivors after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction in the United States and Japan’s tsunami in 2011.
There is much pain and tragedy in Nepal as its people work to recover from the destructive earthquakes. Luckily, search and rescue teams are bringing happiness back to a country that desperately needs it.
– Ashrita Rau