Even though it was their first tour of duty overseas, one pair of heroic canine siblings stepped into the frontlines of the recovery efforts in Nepal with the confidence of old pros.
Phayu and Port, 3-year-old Labrador Retrievers from Virginia, deployed with the USAID Disaster Assistance Response Team (DART) immediately after last month’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake catapulted Nepal into crisis.
With more than 760,000 homes destroyed or damaged by earthquake, the superhuman attributes of canines like Phayu and Port played an important role in finding survivors injured and trapped beneath rubble.
“Technology helps us see and hear people who may be trapped, but the dogs allow us to smell,” said Phayu’s handler Teresa MacPherson of Catlett, Va. “They can detect the scent of human breath.”
Part of the family
Phayu and Port were among the 12 canines that deployed with the Fairfax and Los Angeles County urban search-and-rescue teams to help in the search for survivors.
Working with the Government of Nepal and local and international search-and-rescue crews, USAID’s urban search-and-rescue specialists led canine responders to locations in the field to hunt through rubble and debris. The nimble rescue dogs navigated tight spaces that could not be reached by humans.
Phayu and Port’s handlers describe them as bold, confident, athletic and driven — attributes that any human leader might embody. It is this drive and determination that allowed the dynamic duo to focus intently on the search process, even in chaotic situations.
As days passed, hope for finding survivors dwindled. But then the urban search-and-rescue members of the DART helped pull a 15-year-old boy out of the rubble, five days after the earthquake.
After a powerful aftershock rocked the country two and a half weeks later, the USAID rescue teams jumped back into action, rescuing a 41-year-old woman.
Finding survivors wasn’t the only reward for canine search dogs.
“To them searching is fun,” said Massey, comparing the process to a game of hide and seek.
“We select dogs with high ‘toy drive,’ ” added MacPherson, of what a trainer looks for a rescue dog. “In a way, the dogs actually select us by how they behave when they are young.”
On May 16, all the urban search-and-rescue members of the DART — including Phayu, Port, and the 10 other rescue canines — returned home.
The DART, which now comprises 15 USAID disaster experts, continues to coordinate closely with the Government of Nepal and international partners to ensure that urgently needed relief supplies reach remote areas.
When not on a mission, Phayu and Port live with their handlers.
MacPherson has been working with canine teams since 1990, including responses to Hurricane Katrina and the Japan earthquake and tsunami
Although Massey works full time at the U.S. Federal Reserve, she has trained and managed three canine search-and-rescue animals.
USAID’s DART team knows that it’s all “paws” on deck when a large-scale catastrophe occurs and thanks to the work of rescue canines like Phayu and Port, human volunteers have invaluable partners at their sides.
This week, USAID announced an additional $9 million to assist in Nepal earthquake response and recovery efforts, bringing the total amount of U.S. humanitarian assistance for the disaster to nearly $47 million.
The new funding will go toward more emergency shelter materials, safe drinking water, hygiene kits, and improved sanitation to the most critical areas and also support programs to address psychosocial needs and the protection of earthquake survivors, including women and children.
— USAID/OFDA (@theOFDA) May 19, 2015