The landscape looks like an area devastated by an earthquake. Two crumbling train cars, debris, concrete, metal cables tangled in the ground, trenches in the ground, holes and underground tunnels. A chaos perfectly studied to imitate the effects of a catastrophe. There, an elite team dedicated to saving lives trains every day: the cynological platoon of the Second Battalion of the Military Emergency Unit (UME).

It is about 50 kilometers from Seville, at the Morón de la Frontera air base, where thousands of Spanish and United States military personnel work. Among them are the six soldiers of the cynological platoon of the UME and their dogs Choni, Speed, Bruno, Arias, Baco and Suma. They have also been part of the Otan and Nico team, but they have just retired.

Part of this platoon recently moved to the earthquake-affected area of Turkey and, together with the rest of the members of the EMU urban rescue team, managed to pull a mother and her two children, aged two and six, alive from the rubble. The best reward for years of work and training.

The mother and her two children were buried for several days under a building destroyed by the earthquake. Next to them was also the father, but deceased. From the time the Spanish military located them alive until they managed to get them out of the ruins of what had been their home, about 28 hours passed. Against the clock, the experts had to access them with maximum care and calculating each maneuver to the millimeter to avoid any collapse that could damage them. All along, the mother was breastfeeding her children to keep them alive.

"It was very, very exciting. The best thing that can happen to a rescuer is to get someone alive and, in this case, they were a mother and her two children!", recalls Corporal Valentín Costa, who has been in the EMU for 16 years, of which three have been spent in the cynological platoon.

Corporal Costa traveled to Turkey in a plane of the Armed Forces in which the Spanish rescue teams were traveling. His dog Choni also traveled, a Belgian 'malinois' shepherd of cinnamon color for whom the loss of Turkey was his first work experience. "I am very happy, he responded very well and that was a long trip and it was very cold there," Costa recalls. In the area affected by the earthquake, temperatures below 11 degrees were recorded. The 'rookie' Choni surpassed her first job with a note.

The EMU team travelled from Seville to Turkey was there between 6 and 15 February. They mobilized quickly and on the day of the earthquake they were already traveling towards the disaster area. In this type of mission, it is key to act quickly in order to save as many lives as possible.

On the ground, international teams divide the devastated area into sectors and divide them among search groups. In Turkey, Cape Costa remembers how, in the area destroyed by the earthquake, there were all kinds of smells that could confuse dogs: food, bonfires... When an animal marks an area where a person may be alive, then another dog is used to rule it out or confirm it.

But in addition to rescuing people alive, EMU dogs are also experts at locating corpses. It is the specialty of the dog Choni. Along with her, the dogs Otan, Speed and Nico also moved to the area affected by the earthquake in Turkey. These three are expert trackers of living people trapped in the rubble.

In order for the four dogs of the EMU to be able to intervene in a rescue like the one in Turkey, they had to overcome a demanding training plan. Always with your guide. "If we climb to the top of the turret, the dogs accompany us; and, if we move to a swamp, they come too," explains First Corporal Jesús Rodríguez del Toro, also from the cynological platoon. Veterinary reviews with constants. The animal must be in top shape to successfully face real training and rescues.

Each EMU dog is assigned a guide. They are inseparable. The daily routine inside the Morón base includes that all the equipment is in the military installations at 7.20 in the morning. At that time, they dedicate themselves to maintenance, clean the kennels ... At 8.00 am it's time for training. Then, the guides run with the dogs and, subsequently, initiate the instruction plan that touches each day.

Gago Lobato

It can be in the area of debris and underground tunnels that are at the base of Morón and also move to nearby towns, such as La Carlota (Córdoba), Jerez (Cádiz), Lebrija (Seville) or Palmar de Troy(Seville). The key is to train in different places so that the dog and its guide are able to face different situations when they are in a real rescue.

The search for submerged corpses is also trained. The cynological platoon of Morón usually goes to the Palmar de Troya reservoir to train the animals in this discipline. A sample is hidden in the water, and then, in a boat, the dog is tracking the area. Always with your guide. When it detects something, the animal begins to bark. It doesn't fail.

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A very special bond is established between the guide and the dog. "If you like dogs, this is your life's work," says Rodriguez del Toro. The soldiers of the cynological platoon do not see the animals as mere dogs. They are companions. "This is like if you sign the Betis," jokes Costa, describing his work with dogs.

So united are the guides and their dogs that, when the retirement age of the animal arrives, which is usually eight years, many leave the military installations to settle in the house of their trainer. Private Antonio Miguel López, who was also working in Turkey after the earthquake with his dog Nico, has already thought about where he will install the animal. "On a plot in the countryside. These animals cannot be locked in a flat."

Some are retiring, but reinforcements are always arriving. Everything must be ready for the next mission.

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  • Dogs
  • EMU
  • Turkey
  • Seville
  • Cadiz
  • Córdoba
  • Ministry of Defence
  • Pets