Mine-Sniffing Dogs Head to Lebanon to Save Lives

The U.S. State Department sent six highly trained canine heroes to war-torn Lebanon to sniff out deadly land mines in an effort to save human and animal lives.

The dogs, called the “K9 Demining Corps,'' were sent to Lebanese handlers who have been trained by the United States.

It was the latest contribution in a U.S. program that's cast hundreds of dogs as heroes in the fight to eradicate an estimated 100 million buried land mines in 65 countries across the globe.

An unknown number of the hidden killers are in Lebanon, a country torn by a 16-year civil war that ended in 1991 and now partly occupied by the Arab terrorist group called Hezbollah. The United States has contributed more than $100 million to defusing mines in various countries, $2.3 million for Lebanon.

Paul Irwin, president of the Humane Society of the United States, has endorsed the dog recruiting effort because injuries to the animals that sniff out the mines are rare, said Dr. Randall Lockwood, Humane Society vice president for research and education outreach.

Detect, Retreat, Freeze

The dogs are trained to detect the odor of explosives, then retreat and freeze. It's the human experts who move forward and either defuse or safely detonate the mine, Lockwood said. The Humane Society also embraced the program because it will save the lives of thousands of animals, he said.

In many war-torn nations, the threat that deadly mines could be looming anywhere, ready to maim or kill, stops children from going to school or their parents from walking to the village market, said Lockwood. And for every human life taken, an estimated 20 to 50 animals – livestock and wildlife – are killed by a live mine, he said.

Most of the Lebanon-bound dogs, trained by companies like Global Humanitarian Demining in Washington, D.C., are German shepherds, but one is a Belgian malinois, and there's a new effort to recruit other breeds – including mutts – in the lifesaving effort, according to Lockwood.

Respect for Animals

Having the nations that are plagued by old mines start training their native dogs for the task also helps teach more respect for the animals, he said. “This is often the way for countries that may not recognize the special role dogs play in our country to experience that special bond,'' he said.

Most dogs that show a good sense of smell and concentration can be trained for the task, according to Lockwood, a specialist in animal behavior and dog training. “It's being done in Southeast Asia and Iraq,'' he said. “You don't need a guard dog to sniff.''

The non-profit Humpty Dumpty Institute, based in New York City, raised the $125,000 to train the latest cadre of lifesaving dogs largely because of the efforts of board member Bill Rouhana, chairman of Windstar Communications and his wife, Amy Newmark, said Institute spokesman Paul Chatalas.

At their wedding, the couple asked invitees to contribute to the training of the six dogs, instead of buying the newlyweds gifts. The institute was set up to find private-sector solutions to public policy problems, or to “put the pieces back together again,'' Chatalas said.