Dogs trained to save lives
Yılmaz quit his job to become a trainer at the Dog Search Team, which is part of the İzmir Metropolitan Municipality, after being touched by the role of search and rescue dogs in finding survivors of the 1999 Marmara earthquake.
He first started working with puppies after completing his local and foreign professional training.
Yılmaz prefers to take Labrador and Belgian shepherd dogs at a very young age, at around six weeks, teaches them how to leave their scent, use their noses, develop sensitivity to given commands and socialize with other animals and people during the two-year education.
In order to strengthen the bond with the dogs, Yılmaz first gives “obedience training.” In the second stage, he gives “orientation in the wreckage,” then “basic barking” and “agility” training to move easily amid the wreckage.
After successfully passing all stages, the dogs are given certificates from the Disaster and Emergency Management Authority (AFAD). While the successful ones are taken to the fire brigade department as certified search and rescue dogs, those that aren’t successful in the first time round get trained for another year.
Yılmaz said the trainings were fun but difficult. Stating that every dog was not qualified to become a rescue dog, Yılmaz said, “The dog search and rescue team is always in the rescue activity until the last phase of the search. This is why their training is very important. You have to make a good plan and train your dog eight hours a day. This job is a big responsibility because you are going to work to save people. Everyone searches the wreck in accordance with the information given. For me, making a mistake with the dog you work with is a crime committed to your profession.”
Yılmaz said he and one of his rescue dogs, named “Şans” (which means “Luck” in Turkish), rescued a 12-year-old boy after 54 hours in the Van earthquake, adding that the happiness of saving a life and seeing the success of Şans was “incredible.”
Stating that the dogs he trained were very emotional, Yılmaz said: “Since I take them at a young age, they are like my children. I lie next to them because they are babies and are open to everything in the first days. We have a strong bond with them. Dogs understand the troubles you go through. It may not be right to work with a dog if you’re not feeling great.”
He said he was deeply saddened when Şans died last year after the dog retired.