Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Italian Newfoundlands To The Rescue
"Italian Dogs Take The Plunge From Helicopters To Rescue Bathers"
(By Peter Popham -- Roma)
"St. Bernards in the snow are old hat. A pioneering Italian dog enthusiast claims to be the first person in the world to have trained Newfoundland dogs to jump out of helicopters and rescue people drowning in the sea.
"The large dogs - mostly Newfoundlands but with a smattering of Labradors - patrolling Italy's beaches this summer in tandem with volunteers from Protezione Civile are not there just for show. All are graduates of the Italian Dog Rescue School, set up by Ferrucio Pilenga from Bergamo, who claims it is the first and only academy of its type in the world.
"Mr. Pilenga had the idea of opening such a school in 1988. 'I wanted to train my own dog, a Newfoundland bitch called Mas, to learn how to save people in the water. As no such organisation existed, we created it ourselves, me and Mas together. I rounded up some friends and explained the project to them, we took advice from the Navy.'
"'Despite the great aptitude of Newfoundlands in the water, it was difficult', Mr. Pilenga said. 'Instinct alone is not enough, it's difficult for a dog to rescue a drowning man because he is flailing and splashing and runs the risk of drowning the person, or dog, who is attempting the rescue. But after innumerable experiments we found a way to do it that worked.'
"Nearly 20 years on, Mr. Pilenga is proud to boast that 'my dogs are the only ones in the world who are able to jump into water from a helicopter over water... For the dog it's not just a question of jumping from different heights but also of learning not to be distracted by noise, by wind or by the waves whipped up by the helicopter's rotors.'
"The dogs leap with their human colleagues - but Mr. Pilenga points out that they can also be invaluable in situations where human beings are useless. 'For example, near dangerous rocks, where it is difficult for a boat to go close because of the danger of being smashed against the rocks. Enter the dog: attached to the rope, he swims to the person in trouble with a lifebuoy, and the drowning person can then be towed to safety.'
"Full training takes about three years, and today scores of graduates from Mr. Pilenga's school patrol beaches from Venice to Sardinia. They are credited with having saved a number of lives."
Oh, me? Well, I don't live in Italy (sfortunatamente)and my helicopter's in the shop. Otherwise, I'd have nailed it. - Me chiamo Satchie