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The Science Of Sniffer Dogs

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By Alan Boyle for The Cosmic Log / MSNBC

Rescuers from all around the world are converging on Haiti in the wake of this week’s earthquake – and not all of them are human. Finding survivors amid the rubble of Port-au-Prince is a job tailor-made for dogs and devices.

The search-and-rescue operation “appears to be unprecedented in scale,” reports.

Many of those teams, such as Virginia Task Force 1 and California Task Force 2, have been in this kind of situation before – for example, after the catastrophic Iranian earthquake of 2003 or the collapse of a Haitian school in 2008. But the magnitude of this week’s disaster is so great that rescue teams who have never before gone into an international operation are being pulled into action.

“This is an unusual situation,” said Debra Tosch, executive director of the National Disaster Search Dog Foundation.

Tosch has been doing search-dog training for 12 years, and was in the midst of a training session when I called her today. Despite all the technological advances in search and rescue, she says dogs are still “man’s best friend” in the wake of a disaster.

“They can cover a large area much more quickly than we can,” she said. Robots and listening devices may come into play during a rescue operation, “but a dog is much quicker.”

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