Borders-trained dogs in Turkish quake rescue

Tom Middlemass
Tom Middlemass

RETRAINED rescue puppies from the Borders are working to save lives in Turkey following Sunday’s earthquake.

The strays’ specialist trainer, Tom Middlemas, was this week en route to join another dog search and rescue team and help in the disaster zone.

The death toll from the 7.2 magnitude quake, which hit the south-east of the country, stands at 459 with over 1,300 injured.

Yesterday the BBC reported Turkey had said it would accept aid from other countries.

Mr Middlemas, who, with his wife Shona, runs the Arthurshiel Rescue Centre at St Boswells, was criticised when he responded to a call by the Turkish government four years ago to send specialist dogs to the country.

Scientists in 2007 predicted Turkey would suffer a huge earthquake in the next few years. The country’s civil defence asked Mr Middlemas to supply dogs that would help find living survivors after the Borders trainer was recommended by the German Red Cross, which has used his dogs.

But when the lifelong dog lover sent over four highly trained Border collies and a Labrador, a letter writer to TheSouthern feared for their safety, imploring the charity: “Please do not send living creatures to any Islamic country – no animal deserves such a fate.”

This week, Mrs Middlemas said her husband’s actions have been vindicated: “We’ve come up trumps. People wrote and didn’t agree but the dogs are working in the earthquake zone just now. It’s fantastic that we can do something to help.”

The dogs would probably be more effective than people in finding survivors, she said.

On Tuesday she said: “Tom is in Amsterdam on his way to Greece. The Greek search and rescue team called him out. He’s hoping to go with them and take the Greek dogs out there to help. He would be there in an advisory capacity.”

Yesterday emergency workers saved a two-week-old girl from her collapsed home and a 27-year-old woman was pulled out alive from another ruined building. Agencies have set up field hospitals and kitchens and distributed thousands of tents and blankets.

Health officials are urging survivors to drink bottled water after seeing an increase in diarrhoea cases.

The rescued dogs now helping in Turkey were assessed to see whether they were good enough for the job before undergoing Mr Middlemas’s intensive two-year training course.

He said at the time: “It is no good if they sniff out people who are already dead because there could be a survivor ten feet away and time is of the essence in these circumstances – it could take ten hours or more to dig someone out.”

Mr Middlemas has specialised in training search and rescue dogs for more than 40 years and has told us: “You can train a dog to do anything.”

Turkish officials are warning that the death toll is likely to rise.

The country is vulnerable to earthquakes because it sits on major geological fault lines.

About 17,000 people were killed in the last quake, in 1999, which lasted only 48 seconds.