[57 and 6, FAIRFAX, VIRGINIA]
I went to Port-au-Prince with the second wave of people from our task force with Banks, my 65-pound black Labrador, who is trained to find living people. The rubble went on for miles and miles. Helicopters were continually overhead. Rescue teams were everywhere. We used the dogs to discover people trapped in difficult-to-reach places. Banks crawled into voids, tunneling through an unstable environment where no human could go. He barked when he detected the scent of a living person. It could be seven days before an extrication was complete. The doctors said the victims were probably able to survive because they were used to subsisting on so little. The best canine story in Haiti was about a dog that ran out of its search area and began barking at a wall. They bored a hole in it and stared into the face of a three-year-old, dehydrated but alive. That was a 100 percent dog find. I often wondered if our training would be good enough for a disaster of this magnitude. Would the dogs just go, Are you kidding me? But Banks totally did his job. Our group made 16 rescues, a new record for us. Thankfully, we made a difference.
Virginia Task Force One canine search specialist Teresa MacPherson manages FEMA's disaster dog program. She and her Labs have worked in the aftermaths of the Oklahoma City bombing and hurricanes Ike and Katrina.
This article originally appeared as Parting Shot in Outside's April 2010 issue.