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Heroic sniffers have their day
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A sniffer dog from the Kunming fire brigade sifts through rubble to find quake survivors in Dujiangyan, Sichuan province.

Seven of the Kunming fire brigade's 40 sniffer dogs won awards for their bravery in earthquake relief work - the first time such honors and cash bonuses have been given to dogs in China.

In addition, all of the team's canines will enjoy more nutritious meals and better living conditions.

The seven dogs - Yinhu, Kunhu, Xiaohu, Jindiao, Feili, Weiyan and Feixiong - have been honored as "disaster-relief heroes" by Yunnan's provincial fire brigade. The brigade's chief Wang Zigang presented the canines with honorary certificates and gave their trainers a total of 100,000 yuan ($14,400) last weekend.

The seven dogs and their trainers were sent to the disaster zone on May 14 and toiled diligently to save victims trapped in the ruins.

Over 10 days, the dogs rushed to 51 disaster sites and found 206 victims buried in rubble. In addition, they assisted with surveillance and detected imminent explosions.

Every one of the dogs was injured during the relief work. Some scraped their lips on rubble; some stepped on sharp steel bars and glass; and some sustained injuries to their noses. But none of them even once retreated from their duties.

Fireman Wang Hongyan, who trained Jindiao, told China Daily he was "gratified and proud" to see his dog awarded.

The 29-year-old said that since he had lived with his sniffer dog for three years, he had come to consider it his "intimate friend".

Wang and his canine found more than 50 victims and saved six of them.

Fire brigade officer Yan Hua said the dogs played an irreplaceable role in the rescue work.

"The dogs can reach places inaccessible to rescuers," he said. "Even the most advanced scientific instruments couldn't replace them."

For example, the dogs can enter buildings toppled by aftershocks, because they are nimble and can swiftly flee the ruins if they are about to collapse.

Yan said the money would improve the dogs' living conditions.

Most of it would go toward raising food standards, improving veterinary facilities and expanding the team.

Part of the cash would go toward treating the dogs injured in the recent relief work.

In addition, the brigade would award the trainers for their outstanding performances.

Kunming's sniffer dog team was established in July 2001 and currently has 40 members.

(China Daily June 16, 2008)

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