In China it proved harder to get things moving. Saad is understanding about this. "We worked with the Fire Brigade for a day, but it was clear that they were very concerned about our health and safety. They needn't be – we know what we're doing. We've worked in this kind of disaster before."
So Signi used their own initiative. They spoke to their driver, who himself had contacts in the affected areas, and in no time they were in Hanwang, working with local people who had lost friends and family in the earthquake.
The Team go into action in Hanwang Town.
We are talking in the comfortable surroundings of the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and Saad explains:
"We're not used to this. I don't stay in five-star hotels. In Pakistan, Esther and Janette lived in tents in the mountains. But when we arrived at Chengdu airport, we met up with some Red Cross volunteers, and they brought us here. We were so tired, with all our dogs and our luggage, and the hotel said they would put us up for the night. The next day, the management told us to stay here at their expense – 'You've come here to help China', they said. 'We appreciate it, and we're proud to help you in return'. The Chinese we have met have been so kind – so civilised and polite – and the Crowne Plaza has provided everything – a car, a driver, they've even given us special secure accommodation for the dogs!"
I ask Saad to tell me a little more about the background to Signi, and he obliges.
Esther and Janette are both Dutch. Esther is a Vet with a long-standing interest in dog training, who had previously done work with the police. Saad is Iraqi by birth, though he came to the Netherlands nearly thirty years ago and now considers himself Dutch. His interest in dog-handling, and his understanding of the extraordinary skills of dogs, grew through an interest in drag- and lure-hunting.
The three got together through their mutual interest, and decided to form Signi as a voluntary non-profit making group.
Initially the group worked mainly with the Dutch Police, and given the low-lying landscape of the country (The Netherlands means 'The Low Countries') much of their work is on the water.