The first week in August each year is International Assistance Dog Week (IADW) – a time created to ‘recognize all the devoted, hardworking assistance dogs helping individuals mitigate their disability related limitations’.
Dogs really are truly amazing and IADW got us thinking about what other amazing things dogs do? While there are many, many things that would make it onto any such list…doggie lifeguard would surely be fairly close to the top.
You’ve probably heard of search and rescue dogs before? These fantastic creatures are trained to search for missing people in the mountains, woodlands and urban areas, as well as avalanches and demolished buildings. But did you know that there’s teams of dogs around the world specifically trained to save the lives of people in water? And the most elite of these incredible creatures are even trained to jump from helicopters..
While Golden Retrievers and Labradors are also adept to turn their paws to water assistance training, Newfoundland dogs are the ultimate doggy lifeguards. The fact that they have water resistant coats and webbed feet makes them fantastically strong swimmers and Newfoundlands appear to be hard-wired to save lives. Newfoundlands were actually originally bred as fisherman’s helpers and to rescue people from drowning, while some owners have even reported that their Newfoundland tries to “rescue” them when they’re swimming!
The Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs in Civitavecchia has gone one step further in harnessing the innate ability of Newfoundlands and has put around 300 dogs through a three-year program to certify them to become the ultimate doggie lifeguards.
These canine lifeguards are trained to jump from helicopters and boats, carry a buoy or raft, and tow victims to shore. These amazing Newfoundland lifeguards who work with the Italian Coast Guard play an important role in rescuing the 3,000 people saved by the Italian Coast Guard each year.
According to Roberto Gasbarri, coordinator of the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs program, canine lifeguards have an advantage over humans because they can easily jump into the water and reach victims quickly. One dog can single handedly pull a boat of 30 people to shore. The canine lifeguards can even help reduce fatigue in the human rescuers by towing handlers to victims for medical attention.
But Italy isn’t the only nation with trained lifesaving dogs, as Canada has some. Also, in the UK, in 2007, a Newfoundland named Whizz, reportedly saved a dozen people.
For all the amazing things they do for us – the lives they save, the love they share, the sunshine they bring to our days – we owe the canine species a debt that we can never repay. No doubt about it!