Man's Best Friend to Be a Part of Italian Lifesaving Service

by VR Sreeraman on August 23, 2007 at 5:19 PM
Man's Best Friend to Be a Part of Italian Lifesaving Service

Perched at the prow of a speedboat off the Italian coast, Eva, a white labrador, heads for her next exercise as a seaborne rescue worker.

By her side is Megan, a golden retriever fresh from earning her stripes in an 18-month training course.


They are among dozens of dogs that have qualified to be part of a lifesaving service launched last year by Italy's coastguard.

"This is Megan's first summer at sea. She's only two-and-a-half, and she really moves!" said her mistress Maria-Rosaria Cirillo at Civitavecchia, a port north of Rome.

Ten-year-old Eva, for her part, can be considered a "true officer" since she has already saved three lives including that of a six-year-old boy, though in other programmes, Cirillo said.

Megan and Eva, each weighing more than 30 kilos (65 pounds) and sporting yellow harnesses embroidered with their names, are the proud recipients of certificates in sea rescue under the coastguard programme.

Most are labs, golden retrievers or Newfoundlands, which Eva's master Roberto Gasbarri says are "morphologically adapted to the water" because of their webbed paws as well as their stamina.

"Dog and master train together as well as living together 24/7," Gasbarri said. "In most rescues, the duo dive into the sea simultaneously, the rescuer handling the person in difficulty, holding his or her head above water and then latching onto the dog, which tows both to safety."

The dogs are also capable of jumping alone into choppy seas and swimming in a circle around the victim until he or she can grab onto a life vest, buoy or a rope attached to the dog's back.

Some graduates of the programme can even jump into the sea from helicopters at low altitudes, or descend on a rope along with their masters from helicopters hovering higher.

The dog's role is essential, preventing the rescuer from tiring, "especially if the victim panics or is unconscious," Gasbarri said, adding: "Moreover, with the dog there, the victim is taken out of the water twice as fast, which is all the more important if the person has stopped breathing."

Gasbarri says the programme has not yet worked out cooperation agreements with port authorities in southern Italy, where every summer hundreds of would-be immigrants are rescued without canine help from capsised vessels as they try to reach Europe from north Africa.

Source: AFP
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