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updated 5/10/01
RSPCA Acts to ease plight of US Rescue Dogs

Practical help and advice is being offered by the RSPCA in a bid to ease the suffering of rescue dogs in New York. The Society is liaising with its sister organisation in America to offer whatever assistance it can.

The ASPCA is co-ordinating a massive operation to rescue and rehome animals left in empty homes after buildings were evacuated or whose owners died in the collapse of the twin towers. Mobile veterinary clinics have been set up to take care of the hundreds of rescue dogs working in dangerous conditions to retrieve bodies from the rubble. But animal welfare workers now face the additional task of trying to help dogs suffering from depression at not finding anyone alive.

RSPCA chief veterinary officer, Chris Laurence, said: "These dogs are trained to find people alive, for which they are rewarded. It is bound to be frustrating for them to be searching for days on end and only ever finding bodies. It is very difficult to treat the dogs for depression, particularly as taking them away from their work is not an option yet."

The RSPCA has offered the following advice to dog handlers:

. It is extremely important, as depressing as it must be for the handler, that the dog is rewarded just as much for finding a body as if a person had been found alive.

. Some dogs are happy to work for hours on end, while others need frequent breaks. But it is vital that all the dogs are given lots of relaxation time and love and attention.

. Handlers should try to find time for play sessions with their dogs, well away from the scene and with their working harnesses removed to give the dog an opportunity to have some fun.

. Some studies have shown that a dog's sense of smell declines if it is used for too long, which will make it harder for the dog to do its job. For this reason physical rest is just as important as mental relaxation.

. Regular veterinary checks are vital to make sure the dogs are in good physical condition and fit to work.