MISSING IN THE POWER PLANT

Germany Ole sits bolt upright, ears pricked, completely focused. He looks at Gabriele Marx expectantly. She gives the command. “Search and help!” Ole dashes off. The trained rescue dog knows exactly what he has to do. He combs through the environment independently. Marx, his handler, just needs to wait until she hears Ole bark. This means he has found the woman.

Luckily, she is not really missing. She is one of Marx’ colleagues and is only hiding so that Ole can practise finding people. The whole thing is part of an exercise that Marx and the other 25 two-legged and 32 four-legged members of the Berlin City West Rescue Dog Unit, a subdivision of the German Red Cross (DRK), frequently perform.

Gabriele Marx is 45 years old and has been training dogs since 2004. She lives in Berlin-Bohnsdorf.

The perfect playground
Today 12 of them are training at the Klingenberg Combined Heat and Power Plant in southwest Berlin. “We come to this power plant once a year with our dogs,” explains Gabriele Marx. “The dogs are subjected to different stimuli here. There are hums, hisses and roars coming from all directions. It’s confusing, loud, warm and smells strange. This is important so that the dogs learn to work under difficult conditions and with distractions.”

Power plant manager Harald Flügel is to thank for making it possible for the dogs to train here. Many years ago, when the German Red Cross requested that the Rescue Dog Unit be allowed to train at the Klingenberg Power Plant, he did not have to think twice: “These volunteers and their dogs rescue citizens in emergencies. I think it’s only fair we support them. It doesn’t inconvenience us, and it’s a small contribution to the common good,” he says.

Ole does not care about the common good. He just wants to find the missing person. It is all just a game. “For dogs, it doesn’t feel like work at all. They like doing it, love the challenge and are happy once they’ve mastered the task and been rewarded,” explains Marx. Despite all the fun, the rescue dogs are completely focused on their work. After 20 minutes, they need a break so that their noses can recover, as this is the most important tool the dogs have. They use it to navigate, process information and find the person they are looking for.

Ole is 8 years old and has been a rescue dog for the red cross since 2008. He lives with Gabriele in Berlin-Bohnsdorf.

Impressive biology
A dog has 200 million olfactory (smell receptor) cells. By comparison, humans have just 5 million. It is no surprise therefore, that dogs can support humans in a whole range of tasks. Depending on which group of smells the dog’s nose is trained to identify, the four-legged creatures can smell narcotics, explosives, money or even diseases such as cancer.

This requires regular training. “Ever since Ole was a puppy, I’ve been training with him at least twice a week,” explains Marx. Ole lives with her at home and is a regular family dog. But when the police or fire brigade needs him and the other DRK dogs for a search and rescue mission, the Belgian Shepherd is a professional.

Ole is trained and tested in area and rubble searches. This means that wherever people need to be found, whether they are missing or buried in rubble, Ole, Marx and the other dogs and their handlers are on the scene.

Following his nose
Here at the Klingenberg Power Plant, it may just be an exercise, but Ole keeps on task. He searches the environment excitedly, jumps over pipes and climbs up and down metal stairs, always following his nose. It does not take long for him to track down the woman and find her hiding place. Now it is time to bark loudly, so that Marx and the others know where he is and where they need to go to recover the missing person. In this case, she miraculously recovers herself and stands up. Ole does not pay much attention to her, since his job is already done. He gets his toy as a reward, and now only has eyes for the red rubber ball. “Well done, Ole,” praises Marx.

Hide, search, find, reward. They repeat this all afternoon in different areas of the power plant. Each rescue dog gets plenty of chances to show what he is made of. Now it is time for Ole to return to the travel box in Marx’ car. In a year’s time, they will all meet again at the Klingenberg Power Plant to repeat this special exercise.

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