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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

By Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:57:00 10/05/2008

MANILA, Philippines - Chairman, Rebelle and Piolo were only too eager to oblige everyone who wanted to have pictures taken with them, play with them, and stroke the back of their necks.

This was during the benefit concert, “Dog Day Afternoon,” at the Kumiko Kuroda residence in Forbes Park in September 2007. The concert raised funds for Chairman, Rebelle, Piolo and other dogs of the Philippine K9 Search and Rescue (PhK9SAR) Foundation.

A month later last year, in October 2007, the three were just as eager, if not more, when they rushed to the Glorietta 2 building just minutes after the blast that ripped it. It was the dogs who found the body of Maureen de Leon, the last casualty to be recovered.

This was last year. This time around, only Rebelle and Piolo were present to entertain the guests at the Kuroda residence in Forbes Park, where a press conference to announce this year’s concert was held. Chairman had just given birth.

Chairman, Rebelle and Piolo are search-and-rescue dogs.

The three have every right to be called heroes. They played very instrumental roles during the search and rescue operations for the missing University of Santo Tomas mountaineer in 2004, the Quezon province mud slides the same year, the Southern Leyte landslides in 2006, the Guinobatan Albay mudslides later that year, and the search for mountaineers swept away by the river in Zambales just recently.

As a way of honoring Chairman and Rebelle, two female Belgian Malinois, and Piolo, a male boxer, and their handlers, the Philippine K9 Search and Rescue (PhK9SAR) Foundation Inc. and the Philippine National Red Cross (PNRC) once again held a benefit concert to raise fund for both groups’ joint projects.

“Dog Day Afternoon 2008: An Elegant Soiree of Light Classical Music” featured performances by sopranos Jennifer Uy and Camille Lopez Morina of the Philippine Opera Company, pianists Sheryl Dios, Hyun Joo Lee, guitarist Don de Dios, and recorder player Kumiko Kuroda, who co-chairs the event together with Renee Speltz and Senator Richard Gordon.

PhK9SAR will use the funds from the concert to continue training more search and rescue dogs and handlers. Twice a year, evaluators come from the US-based National Association for Search and Rescue to grade each dog-handler team to see whether they may be promoted and certified for the next level.

So far, three teams have been given “Mission Ready” status with six more presently undergoing training to prepare for certification.

The PNRC’s proceeds, meanwhile, will go to Project 143 that trains 43 volunteers from every barangay.

Uncanny talents

The PhK9SAR was formed when a group of like-minded people who recognized dogs’ uncanny talents in the field of search and rescue.

The fact that there was previously no K9SAR group in Asia had to be truly alarming. Especially in the Philippines, which is continuously threatened by climate change and the occasional earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, victims would have had to wait 72 hours for teams from the US and Europe to arrive.

Today, with the presence of the PhK9SAR―a partner and affiliate of the Office of Civil Defense, Philippine Coast Guard, PNRC, Philippine Air Force and National Disaster Coordinating Council―rescue is mere hours away.

Toni Yulo-Loyzaga, executive director of the Manila Observatory, showed during a short presentation exactly why there is the need for the PhK9SAR and perhaps additional dog owners who are willing to undergo training and be certified as volunteers.

Loyzaga said the Manila Observatory has been mapping the parts of the country most vulnerable to disasters. Doing so, she said, would assist the PNRC and the PhK9SAR in identifying the towns that need immediate help.

Noel Lim of the PhK9SAR said dogs can smell if someone is buried underneath the rubble or even below the ground at depths of 40-100 feet, depending on the conditions. Some dogs can even smell below vast bodies of water.

To qualify for the PhK9SAR, a dog has to be at least 12 months old, fit and structured for search and rescue, intelligent, trainable, transportable, shows a natural scenting ability and of good temperament.

Handlers, on the other hand, have to be 21 years old, of good moral character, physically and mentally fit, able to commit to the foundation, can get along with other volunteers, and must have a relationship with their dog outside of the training.

“In case the dog passes and the handler does not, the dog will be assigned a handler who has passed,” Lim explained.

“Same goes if the dog does not pass, the handler will be assigned a different dog.”


Handlers who qualify will undergo serious training such as the International Red Cross Basic Life Support, Mass Casualty Incident, Basic Mountaineering Course, Canine First Aid and Helicopter Safety Procedures.

Once certified, volunteers will be on call 24 hours per day, every day of the year to locate missing persons, help in evidence search, and take part in emergency disaster response.

Joan Orendain, one of the directors of PhK9SAR, told of a story about Piolo who, after retrieving so many dead animals and people in Albay, became so depressed and couldn’t eat for a week.

Perhaps the presence of people showing appreciation to what he, Chairman and Rebelle have done would boost the dogs’ spirits to get them through their next quest.

The dogs were present during the concert last Sept. 27 at the Kuroda residence in Forbes Park. The dogs demonstrated their skills after the concert.

Call 8341740 for donations.

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