(Read Part 1 here: https://dayakdaily.com/k9-handlers-and-their-dogs-part-1/)
(Read Part 2 here: https://dayakdaily.com/k9-handlers-and-their-dogs-part-2/)
By Nancy Nais
THANK goodness these dogs are nosey because someone’s life might just depend on them!
For firefighters Dennis Augustine and Dominic Bahong Micky, they are literally going to the dogs.
They, along with their trusty canine companions Bailey (a Labrador) and Daisy (a Border Collie), are certified search and rescue (SAR) wilderness dogs from the Fire and Rescue Department Malaysia (Bomba)’s K9 unit.
Wilderness dogs are trained to locate individuals in rugged terrain that is generally difficult for human searchers to navigate.
These dogs usually work off-lead as air-scenting, trailing and tracking dogs to locate lost or missing individuals quickly and reliably.
In 2017, Sarawak recorded 10 cases involving 32 people missing in the jungle.
In the first eight months of this year, there were eight missing-people cases involving 11 individuals.
For Dennis, 38, SAR dogs are very valuable resources for the department because they can get into places and cover much more ground than humans.
Their sense of smell and tracking skills are of great help in finding living or deceased people.
However, the department’s wilderness K9 are trained to detect only living humans lost in the jungle.
“Tracking and trailing dogs can be trained for scent discrimination, wilderness tracking or variable surface tracking. Some dogs can also be cross-trained in a number of these areas.
“This is due to the acute scenting sensitivity of a dog’s nose and ability to compile and recall scent profiles,” Dennis told DayakDaily, as he stroked (bonding method) Bailey, a two-year-old Labrador.
Air scent is among the few methods these dogs use during SAR operations.
They will find lost people by picking up traces of human scent that are drifting in the air and look for the scent where it is most concentrated.
“However, bear in mind that the success of an air scent dog will be affected by a number of factors, including wind conditions, air temperature, time of day and terrain. Even the presence or absence of contamination such as smoke can affect,” Dennis explained.
He said wilderness dogs are also trained to trail and track.
“The dog will be given an uncontaminated article (such as a piece of clothing) belonging to the missing person. It will follow that scent and no other.
“If there are a good scent article and a point where the person was last seen, a trailing dog can be the fastest way to find the victim; otherwise, these dogs cannot work effectively,” he explained.
Dominic, 25, concurred that dogs bring some good benefits to their SAR team.
“They use their nose and eyes. If the wind is right, they can pick up a human scent from a hundred metres out and follow it to the person and alert their handler. They also move faster than a person and can cover a large area much more quickly,” he said.
Daisy (Border Collie) is Dominic’s first dog in such discipline.
Dennis and Dominic were among the six handlers that were recently transferred back to Sarawak to kick-start the state’s pioneer Bomba K9 unit in Serian.
Meanwhile, Dennis also shared some tips to enhance the chances of survival if one is lost in the jungle.
“If that happens you, immediately call for help with your mobile phone. Try to describe your surroundings and stay put. Do not leave your location. Your chance of being found decreases if you wander around.”
In the event there is no telecommunication network or mobile battery is flat, his advice is to head downwards and try to locate the nearest river if possible.
“If you can find a river, follow the water heading downstream. An adult can survive for days without food, but not water. Never wait until you run out of water before you look for more.
“On the other hand, if you cannot find a river, you can help the SAR by placing easily seen coloured items at eye height and in open areas that can be spotted from the air.
“Another method is if you’re a smoker, you should have a lighter, so try to make a small fire. The smoke can help to give a signal to make it easier for SAR to find you,” Dennis said.
If the night sets in, victims need to consider shelter and safety from wild animals, so try to climb a tree and wait.
Considering all of the above, always attempt to remain in the area in which you were first ‘lost’ to make it easier for the SAR and the nosey canine to locate you.