When we entered the cafe, we ​​did not imagine that we would get to know famous journalist Annette Quinn in such a different role. With a fine sense of humor and great life force, Annette reminded us that dogs are more than pets: some save our lives, they have it in their DNA.

This was the case of Messi, Angel Rodriguez’s rescue dog who already crossed the rainbow bridge: Messi participated in three rescue operations in landslides in our country in an eight-year period.

In this interview, we learn more about K-SAR with Annette, National Secretary and volunteer at the Panamanian Red Cross.

What exactly is K-Sar? 

K-SAR, for its acronym Kanine (Canine) Search and Rescue, is the canine unit of the Red Cross is responsible for the search and rescue of human lives in natural disasters: debris, collapsed structures, landslides or victims in open fields caused by accidents or natural disasters. K—SAR functions through certified “pairs” (man or woman and dog).

How does the organization work in Panama?

There are five units within the Red Cross that work from different perspectives. K-SAR is the youngest group, with more than 10 years in the country; it’s headed by Mario Chan Durán, our current National Director.

The K-SAR team is composed of about 20 people, all volunteers. Among these, eight are owner-dog pairings, certified and operative. Three other pairings are in the process of certification.

 Does this mean one needs to have a dog to be a K-SAR volunteer?

Wanting to help and having a love for animals is enough. Ideally, a person should arrive at K-SAR without a dog. For a while, you train and see what it takes to become a certified pair with a dog. Once you are ready, you can find a dog, ideally a puppy, with whom you can start training to become a certified pair.

You don’t necessarily need to own a dog to enter Ksar.  You can donate time and learn from others’ experience. There are fellow volunteers who don’t have a dog and they are just as important and useful in training and logistical support. 

A K-SAR search team is made up of four person-dog duos, who can reduce search time in an area of approximately 2000 square meters  to 7 or 10 minutes, depending on the type of terrain and weather conditions.

Rescue dogs: born or made? Nature vs. Nurture?

A rescue dog may be born with disposition or genetic qualities, that one can enhance, awakening and developing the dog’s hunting instincts. From puppyhood, we can know via a test, the Campbell test, if the dog has the genetic predisposition to be a rescuer.

This is done through a program according to the dog’s life stages, to “build” the rescue dog. When the dog reaches puberty (Between 6 and 12 months), the plan is more rigorous.  One the dog matures, is when we demand the most.  The dog reaches its best state after two years, after which it is read for an international certification that will allow him to be a rescue dog both in Panama and abroad.

Is there an ideal breed for rescue dogs?

As I was saying, a genetic predisposition is necessary. The breeds that usually fulfill these requirements are the Belgian Shepherd Malinois, the Labradors, the Golden Retrievers and the German and Dutch Shepherds, among others.

Must the dog maintain the certification throughout all of his life as a rescue worker?

Each year dogs must be re-certified to ensure that the required levels are maintained.

To achieve these standards, it is necessary to practice daily, to evaluate the dog’s progress and to ensure that it develops and learns to bring forth the best effort in a rescue moment.

This means perseverance, discipline, technique added to the positive reinforcement that motivates the rescue dog.

This being such an intense and demanding activity, what motivates volunteers to be in a dog-human rescue pair?

Being a Red Cross volunteer is in your veins.  80% of the people in the world who are part of the Red Cross are volunteers.

We are motivated knowing that we have another living being that can help us alleviate human suffering and we want to do it together. We sacrifice a lot as volunteers, but the reward is great.

Are new technologies making less and less necessary to have rescue dogs in emergency situations?  

To date, a dog’s acute sense smell has not been replaced by machines. There are several technologies that help a lot in emergencies, but for the moment a dog is faster. Their nose has the ability to differentiate the smell of someone who is buried from that of a person who is on the surface.

What are K-Sar’s goals in Panama short and medium term?

Currently, we are working to continue strengthening the K-SAR unit with meetings with specialists at the international level that allow us to be active and updated.

We would like to be able to reach other countries with our K-SAR dogs to provide support in case of emergencies; we know that we are already prepared for that.

Search and rescue dogs play a vital role in saving lives after a natural disaster because they are able to overcome obstacles that a human being could not face alone.

If you believe that your pet has these characteristics and would like to be part of rescue actions, the Panamanian Red Cross has a team of experts ready to guide you.-

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