Canine Deployment Injury and Illness Report

Lori E. Gordon, DVM



This is the seventh report by the author to document injury and illness incurred by search canines deployed to various disasters around the country and around the world. Prior reports include the Haiti Earthquake (2010), Joplin, MO Tornado (2011), Hurricane Sandy (2012), Moore, OK Tornado (2013), Colorado Floods (2013), and the SR-530 Oso, Washington Landslide (2014).

Whether the disaster is natural or man-made, the weather cold and wet or hot and humid, the elevation mountainous or at sea level, the search areas rubble or mud, the culture familiar or foreign, patterns are emerging from the data. Significance of information relies heavily on numbers, so the more data collected the more credible the findings. The information provides insight into how we can better prepare and care for our canine team members out there in the field.


Brief History

On April 25, 2015 at 11:56 Nepal Standard Time (NST) an earthquake of magnitude 7.8 occurred with an epicenter just east of the district of Lamjung, Nepal. The earthquake triggered an avalanche on Mount Everest, killing at least 19 people. Aftershocks occurred throughout Nepal within 15–20 minute intervals, with one shock reaching a magnitude of 6.7 on 26 April at 12:54:08 NST. The country also had a continued risk of landslides. A major aftershock occurred on 12 May 2015 at 12:51 NST with a moment magnitude (Mw) of 7.3. The epicenter was near the Chinese border between the capital of Kathmandu and Mt. Everest.

The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) deployed personnel to aid in search and rescue operations. The response included 12 FEMA US&R Live Find Certified Canine Search Teams, 6 teams each, from CA-TF2 and VA-TF1.


Executive Summary

Survey response of 100% maximizes validity of data. Having 12 surveys completed by the 2 canine coordinators minimizes errors in reporting objective data information.

Handlers were experienced in task force operations, with team memberships of 7-22 years. Nine of the 12 had deployed with USAID before, and all 12 had prior deployment experience with their US-based teams. Preparedness, safety, and operations are enhanced by these backgrounds.

Canines breed, age, and weight distribution was similar to other deployments. The Labrador Retriever remains the majority breed; ages between 5-8 years and weight distribution of 50-80 pounds are also most common. FEMA cache supplies, materials, and drug dosing are tailored to these parameters.

Air travel was sometimes challenging due to extended flight times. Also, canines were not always allowed in cabin. All possible arrangements were made to break up flights enough to allow for enough breaks. USAID and diplomatic ties aided in getting canines onto flights. Only one canine was reported to have become mildly dehydrated. In general, canines were fed and watered an hour before landing, then brought out during the lay over. Other canines are trained to relieve themselves command, or onto an absorbent pad. The health of the canines was always the priority, and handlers would rather have an accident in the kennel to clean up than an ill canine.


Issue: vehicles were driven by non-task force members. Comfort levels with canines loose in a vehicle while extended search operations are being conducted may vary. Drivers could potentially open a door and accidentally release the canine, none of which happened due to control measures put into place.

Recommendation: When responding to an area where you may have non task force member drivers, consider taking a collapsible kennel along with search operations.

Physical examinations were performed by a U.S.-based veterinarian both pre-mission and upon return home for all canines. This increases our ability to catch potential problems before they exacerbate. Handlers are well-versed in exam checks and human medical personnel are available to assist in canine care. IST Veterinary Officers have made themselves available to contact should any questions or concerns arise. Deployed veterinarians with other agencies were available to consult and treat injury and illness.

Search operations were conducted primarily in collapsed structures and vehicles. Despite the complexity, canines accorded themselves well, a testament to their vigorous training and FEMA testing standards. Despite heat and humidity, no issues secondary to these conditions were reported (dehydration, heat stress). Aftershocks did not affect canine search operations.

Illness and injury reports involved 3 canines (dehydration, wound, knee ligament injury). The majority of canines had no health issues, and those reported were minor (non-life-threatening) and treated appropriately. The orthopedic injury did place the canine out of service, however search operations were not compromised.

Briefings involving specific canine-related concerns were conducted in addition to general information. This information was provided by the author, representing the USAR Veterinary Group. The scope of disease and insect-vector issues unfamiliar to United States based operations can be extensive in foreign countries. Access to information before conducting operations allows for preventative measures to be set in place. The Nepal information is provided in the appendix for reference.

Decontamination was provided after all shifts for all canines. Canine-specific shampoos and conditioners were used as a response to lessons learned from the Oso, WA landslide deployment. Dishwashing liquid is unsurpassed in breaking up oil-based contamination, but chronic use caused skin drying, loss of protective oils, and scratching that resulted in infected skin.

Cultural considerations involving attitudes towards dogs in general vary around the world. In Haiti, the populace was wary of the search dogs, and handlers were wary of giving their canines water in front of on lookers who did not have enough for themselves. In Nepal, stray dogs needed to be kept at bay, and search dogs required protection from strays with respect to physical contact and potential spread of disease.


Survey Data

Information was collected by a survey sent electronically to each of the two teams’ canine coordinators. These personnel compiled the surveys for all 12 deployed handlers (6 per coordinator) and their canines, a 100% response.

Definitions for Reference

  • Mean = the average; the numbers are added and then divide by the number of numbers
  • Median = the middle value in the list of numbers
  • Mode = the value that occurs most often; if no number is repeated, there is no mode
  • Range = is the difference between the largest and smallest values

Handler Information

Six members from each of 2 teams (VA-TF 1 and CA-TF 2) were deployed. Task force membership for all 12 handlers ranged from 5 to 22 years.

  • VA-TF 1 handlers ranged from 8-22 years, mean 14.2 years.
  • CA-TF 2 handlers ranged from 7-15 years, mean 10.7 years

All handlers had at least 1 deployment experience

  • This was the first USAID deployment for 3 handlers (25%), while 9 handlers (75%) had prior deployment(s) with this organization.
  • All handlers (100%) had prior deployment experience(s) with their home teams.

Canine Information

Twelve Canines were deployed. All are FEMA Live Find Certified.

Age distribution ranges from 3 to 9 years

  • VA-TF1 canines ranged 3-9 years; mean 5.5 years
  • CA-TF2 canines ranged 5-9 years; mean 7.3 years

Weight distribution

  • All canines ranged from 50 to 80 pounds (22.7-36.4 kg)
  • Mean of 68 pounds (31 kg)

Breed distribution:

  • 9 Labrador Retrievers (75%)
  • 2 German Shepards (17%)
  • 1 Belgian Malinois (8%)

Gender distribution:

  • 9 Male
  • 2 Female spay
  • 1 Female

This was the first USAID deployment for 8 canines (67%), 4 from each team, while 4 canines (33%) had prior deployment(s) with USAID (2 from each team).

Eight canines (67%) had deployed with their FEMA task force in the past (all 6 from VA-TF 1 and 2 from CA-TF 2), while 4 canines (33%) had not (from CA-TF 2).


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