Supersniffer ends last mission in Haiti

2010-01-25 00:00

PORT-AU-PRINCE — This week Oma completed her last search, but could not, unfortunately, notch up one final success. Oma (Spanish for “Granny”) is 12 years old

Her talents as a search-and-rescue dog, among other things, ensured she was once again called in to assist in the rescue work following the earthquake in Haiti, but after a week in the scorching heat she was exhausted.

Now she’s going to retire.

Oma, the Mexican search-and-rescue team’s dog working with the South African Gift of the Givers team, has featured in several magazine articles.

She is a Malinois (or Belgian sheep dog) and her name appears in the Guiness World Book of Records as the dog certified in the most disciplines.

She can search for survivors in built-up areas or rubble, search over larger areas, pull people out of the rubble and even serve as therapy for old people or disabled children.

Her “smiling” mouth is grey, but it soon becomes clear that her otherwise unimpressive appearance conceals the heart of a lion.

She and her equally grey-haired handler, Rodolfo Nunez, make up a formidable team who found and rescued one survivor after another in October 2005 in the aftermath of the earthquake that tore Cancun in Mexico to shreds.

She has gold and silver medals from championships held by the International Rescue Dog Association.

Together with the dogs of the Swiss, which are internationally regarded as the best, she has held her own. It was, in fact, the Swiss who originally trained her.

In the jungles around Cancun she has taken part in several searches for people who have got lost, and has never disappointed, according to Arturo Acuna Rico, co-ordinatior of the team.

A few weeks before the Haiti earthquake, two malignant growths were removed from her intestines.

“It was after that that we realised her career would not continue for much longer. She nevertheless did her best here, but soon became discouraged when she found no survivors,” Rico said.

It is important for these dogs to achieve regular successes, otherwise they become depressed.

The South Africans have already planned to hide one of their team members in the rubble so that Oma can at least feel as though she has found someone. A discovery like that will soon get her tail up again.

“Her two offspring — a male and a female — are now about three years old and have clearly inherited her genes. I believe that at least Gus, the male, will follow in her footsteps,” Rico said.

Meanwhile she occupies her own fully fledged position as a member of the team in her kennel among the tents of the combined South African and Mexican teams.

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