Dogs trained to save lives
İbrahim Yılmaz has been training search and rescue dogs for 17 years in the Aegean province of İzmir. They complete a two-year training in order to become professional search and rescue dogs.
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.
After eight hours of training every day, puppies that pass the trace-leaving education are then taken to more difficult stages of training one month later.
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.
During the practical training, Yılmaz organizes rescue activities in the wreckage with various pre-prepared scenarios.
Yılmaz, who is together with the dogs in the wreckage and training fields in daytime, does not leave them alone at night and sleeps with them as if they are his children.
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 has so far trained 10 certified search and rescue dogs. Three of them joined rescue efforts after the Van earthquake in 2011 and the Soma mine disaster in 2014, saving many lives.
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.