VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – Search and rescue dogs can be the difference between life and death.
On Tuesday, trainers and their canine companions came from around the country to train in Virginia Beach.
The dogs ran up down concrete blocks, smelling their way to their goal: a person hidden in the rubble. Barks are their sound of victory.
“These dogs are trained to use their nose to find a scent source that they cannot see and they cannot hear,” said Karen Meadows, a K-9 search specialist with Virginia Task Force 2.
The barks tell the trainers that the K-9s found their prize. In emergency situations, that prize is a person.
“So when you hear the annoying barking above you, that means we’re coming for you. We’re going to get you out,” said Eric Darling, who is the co-founder of Superfit Canine, the group who organized the training event.
Superfit Canine is from Philadelphia and brought the 36 trainers and their K-9s together for two days of teaching.
Darling said, “We wake up every morning, what can we do to help? We volunteer our time, we don’t get paid for what we do, because we have this passion.”
On Tuesday, their training included searching for people in three giant piles of rubble and repelling down a four story building with their trainer. They say using the Virginia Beach Fire Training Center challenges the trainers and their K-9s.
“I’m amazed everyday I go to training. I’m amazed that the dogs can climb this rubble, they can leap these voids that we couldn’t possibly even think of,” said Darling.
The trainers hail from 17 states. Many are part of FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams and have been deployed across the country following Hurricane Matthew, the Amtrak train derailment in Philadelphia, Hurricane Katrina and more.
Their goal every time is to bring as many people home as possible.
“Our job is to make sure everybody comes home,” Darling said.
The training continues on Wednesday with treating K-9s who are injured in search and rescue operations.