On the grounds of the Lakehurst Naval Air Engineering Station in New Jersey is a small junkyard's worth of debris, sewer pipes, wreckage, and trash. Three times a month, canine members of the New Jersey Task Force 1 Urban Search and Rescue Team come to this site as part of their training; the dogs practice scrambling over the rubble, through tunnels, across elevated planks, and up ladders. The heap of detritus at the naval station is meant to simulate the sort of conditions these highly trained dogs would work under in the event of a disaster, such as a tornado, earthquake, explosion, or structural collapse.
Most of the search-and-rescue dogs, who are cared for by volunteer handlers, are German shepherds, although Task Force 1 also counts collies and retrievers among its members. Jim Bastan, one of the Task Force's managers, says the dogs are trained to find catastrophe victims by using their sense of smell, which is 100 times stronger than a human's. Once a human scent is detected in the air, the dogs will work their way to where the scent is greatest; when they reach that location, they will bark continuously until a rescue worker arrives.
To congratulate them for a job well done, the dogs are rewarded with a treat or show of affection after a successful find. Jim explains that the training for these dogs, who have already been carefully prescreened, lasts for more than 18 months. Dogs on Task Force 1 must have the proper temperament to do their job under adverse conditions as well as a desire to work.
Learn more about New Jersey Task Force 1.