Suffice it to say that the men and women of the Italian Coast Guard put their lives on the line to safely rescue close to 3000 people annually following water-related mishaps. They aren’t making these daring rescues unaccompanied, however. More than 300 water dogs serve in a special K9 unit that sees the canines, a breed known as Newfoundlands, carry out the water rescues by leaping out of helicopters as well as various types of watercraft. The dogs, it turns out, play an integral part in the Coast Guard attempting and successfully executing thousands of water rescues each year.
Newfoundlands, known throughout as the lifeguard dog, are the perfect breed to be trained in these endeavors as a result of a natural predisposition to want to retrieve people and things from the water. This is why they were selected to train to play a role in the Coast Guard’s efforts. Newfoundlands are extremely intelligent and despite their size are gentle in nature.
The water dog’s efforts in a water rescue consist of the canine dropping from hovering helicopters down to swimmers in distress and dragging them ashore. These canines aren’t simply left to dive into the deep end so to speak without any training. Each Newfoundland is put through an intensive training program that can take up to three years to successfully complete.
The water dogs are expected to learn and implement techniques included in lessons for the following, endurance, diving from heights, long distance rescues, and how to work within the helicopter and understanding to the best of the canine’s ability the usage of a winch. Each dog who successfully completes their training is awarded an Operative Water Rescue Certificate.
Although some would assume that due to the Newfoundland’s innate nature to rescue individuals who appear to be drowning, this is not done without a concentrated effort to ensure both the victim and dog make it back to the shore alive.
The water dogs are dropped with a rope and harness, the dog’s handler keeps a handle on the rope should an incident arise wherein the drowning person tries to grab the dog and inevitably pulls both underwater. The handler can then pull the rope slowly to make certain both the dog and person make it back to shore. The handler remains safely in the helicopter, onboard the watercraft or on the beach. The only times in which making use of the dogs occurs has been in extreme cases of inclement weather, as in times of flood or heavy currents during rescues in other waterways.
According to Roberto Gasparri, coordinator for an Italian water dog rescue school, “The dog becomes a sort of intelligent lifebuoy.”
He says, “It is a buoy that goes by itself to a person in need of help, and comes back to the shore also by himself, choosing the best landing point and swimming through the safest currents.”
Pretty amazing stuff!