Howick pair help out in tragedies

By NICOLA WILLIAMS

Recovering bodies isn’t the toughest challenge for a police officer sent to the scene of the Victorian bushfires and the Samoan tsunami – it’s listening to the living tell their stories of tragedy.

Dog handler sergeant Shane Salmond and five-year-old german shepherd Jess recently returned from helping with relief efforts in Samoa.

The Howick resident has a specially-trained cadaver dog used for searching out bodies.

When the pair were called upon to go to Samoa the southern tip had been searched several times but not methodically, Mr Salmond says.

"We were asked to search a stretch of about 8km of coastline and were able to do that task about two weeks faster than manpower alone."

There were about eight people unaccounted for and the authorities wanted to make sure there were no bodies in the rubble.

The dogs found lots of dead chickens and fish, showing they were doing their job, but there were no people to be found.

"The thing that sticks in my mind about Samoa is there were people who had lost everything, but they were sitting under tarpaulins with a big smile on their faces, waving and happy to see us."

The extreme heat was a challenge because they worked between 5am and 8pm – a tedious job for the dogs who only get rewarded when they find something.

"The dogs really struggled but they still worked hard. We normally work two dogs and rest two dogs but there was no shade because the trees had been knocked down, so although you’re resting them they are in scorching temperatures and suffering."

The Victorian bushfires earlier this year were the first time police dogs had been deployed overseas.

"That was a pretty horrific scene to be in because there was still some danger with large trees falling down and fires still burning around us.

"It was like being on another planet," he says.

The rewards outweighed the tough conditions.

"I’d sat at home and seen the events on the news like everyone else, and then the next minute I’m on a plane going over there.

"It’s good being able to help and put training to use.

"The locals are so appreciative of the help, which is a big plus for the New Zealand police," he says.

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