Search Dogs Essential to Mudslide Rescue Efforts

Cold and rain continue to challenge search dogs on the site of the Washington mudslide.

By | Posted: April 3, 2014, 11 a.m. PST

Following a mudslide that has left 28 dead and 20 still missing in Oso, Washington, dogs have been diligently searching for victims buried by mud and debris.

Photo Dan Bates/AP via New York daily News

Lending their noses and ability to traverse the muddy terrain to the extremely difficult conditions, dog teams have proved to be some of the most effective crews on the scene.

In an interview with National Geographic, Marcia Koenig of King County Search Dogs explains the site of the mudslide is amongst the most challenging that she and her dogs have faced in her 42 years as  search and rescue handler.

"It's a substantially larger area and the working conditions are extremely difficult, worse than I've seen elsewhere,” she tells National Geographic while comparing the mudslide to disasters such as Katrina and a plane crash in Guam.

Photo Jason Redmond/Reuters via National Geographic News

Koenig further explains, that in a landslide or mudslide, the scent of humans can be all over the place, spread across houses, rubble and layer after layer of mud. Aside from just the challenges faced in tracking scents, the search is physically demanding.  One of the dogs was being treated for hypothermia after braving the cold waters. 

Rescue crews announced that due to the conditions and stresses placed on the dogs, teams would be taking a two day break.

"The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs," Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for the team working on the eastern portion of the slide, told the Associated Press.

Photo by Associated Press 
Associated Press

If worked too hard especially in cold and wet environments, the dogs become at risk of losing their sensing capabilities. The Federal Emergency Management Agency brought in additional rescue dogs teams so the exhausted ones can take a well deserved break.

While conditions are expected to improve as temperatures warm and water recedes, the drying mud presents new challenges for the dogs who rely on the exchange of air from below to capture scents.

Associated Press

So far over 30 dog teams have been assisting at the site working eight hour days. More are expected to arrive from Oregon and other parts of the country as the search continues.  

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