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A Publication of

From The Ark - Number 190 - Spring 2002


Maru Vigo, an educator from Tucson, Arizona, has been an animal advocate for more than twenty years.  She is a frequent contributor to The Ark

By Maru Vigo

Recollect that the Almighty, who gave the dog to be companion of our pleasures and our toils, hath invested him with a nature noble and incapable of deceit.
~Sir Walter Scott

One more time, the world has been shocked by a terrible display of human violence and hatred, in New York and Washington D.C.  Nobody will ever forget the tragic events of September 11th and the images of destruction and death caused by an insane terrorist attack.  The images of desperate people jumping from buildings trying to escape terrible deaths or looking for cover in the streets of Manhattan will remain with us for a long time.

In times like this, our hearts go to the families of all the victims.  Thousands of children will never see their parents again, countless workers of all nationalities and races will never return home, a large number of family members and friends have been lost in the rubble, and hundreds of animals overnight have become homeless.

Many human miracle-workers were searching for weeks, refusing to give up.  Because of their tenacity, they have already acquired an important place in history; but we must not forget the four-legged heroes that diligently and faithfully performed an invaluable service that no human could ever have fulfilled.  It is our duty to honour the service provided by more than 300 Search and Rescue (SAR) dogs during this catastrophe.

One trained Search and Rescue dog is as effective as ten trained human searchers, making their value indisputable.  Search and Rescue dogs are trained to find missing people and save lives.  These truly heroic animals rely on their powerful scenting ability and physical endurance in their work on search and rescue missions.

Trained to locate lost or missing people in a specific area, SAR dogs track microscopic human scent particles that are carried by the wind for considerable distances.  Like fingerprints, every person has a unique scent and SAR dogs are able to discriminate and sniff out an individual person in highly populated areas with just a sample of that person’s scent.  These wonderful dogs work hard, day or night, rain or shine.  They are especially effective where human sight is most limited - in the dark, dense woods, heavy brush, disaster debris, and under water.

Rigorous training exercises prepare the SAR dogs for future missions where they may have to search for people amidst chaotic conditions. Above all, these dogs are trained to stay focused while trailing a scent in stressful situations.  At least one year of training twice a week is needed before a dog can be evaluated and deemed ‘mission-ready’.

These canine heroes can be any breed or mix of dog that has the desire to work.  The dog must have excellent scenting ability and be large and strong enough to handle a very physical job.  They must have lots of stamina, a sound temperament, and be able to work well with other dogs and people; but the main characteristic that is innate to them is their heart of gold.  The kind of heart only dogs can possess.

While these animals provide priceless assistance in times of need, some of their congeners die by the thousands due to human irresponsibility, greed or cruelty.  If we truly value what they represent for human society, it is time to show our gratitude and respect for them by being kind and compassionate towards all their fellows: those forgotten companion animals who die senseless deaths in the streets or shelters of the world.

Speeches, diplomas and medals are not as important as advocating spaying and neutering programmes, volunteering at our local rescue-shelters, teaching younger generations about respect and kindness towards all sentient creatures or speaking up against all kinds of animal cruelty and abuse.

Personal loss

This was a brutal attack against a whole nation but it touched us in many different ways.  When I was almost finished with this article, my phone rang to let me know that a good friend and activist died in the attack when she went back to get her dog.  I am still devastated by this horrible news.  I have lost many hours of sleep thinking, imagining and wondering how their last minutes together were, but when I was finally able to clarify my mind and heart I came to the conclusion that their deaths were almost sublime.  I am tempted to assure that despite the violence, the hatred, the confusion, the pain and fear of those last minutes, they were able to find peace.  She probably died holding her friend and looking into his loyal and dear eyes. Nothing can top that.

In view of the recent events, the old phrase ‘It is only a dog’ has no relevance any longer.  You who have been lucky enough to share your life with a dog know perfectly well where their magic resides.  Whether they might be heroes or not, nothing has ever been more mystical and powerful than to have a dog by our side.

Return to The Ark No. 190

For questions, comments and submissions, please contact:
Deborah Jones at The Catholic Study Circle for Animal Welfare

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