Saving lives one sniff at a time

Outside the two-man tent pitched on the grounds of the earthquake-ravaged Haitian palace, a couple of tired search-and-rescue dogs named Hunter and Dawson are snoring away.

Inside, Bill Monahan is having trouble dropping off to sleep again on another hot, humid night. He lies awake watching his buddy Ron Weckbacher on a cot a few feet away sleeping like a baby.

He's envious, real envious.

"Ron has this prominent Adam's apple," Monahan, a captain in the Los Angeles County Fire Department, says Friday.

Along with the rest of their search-and-rescue team, they've just returned from Haiti on Thursday night. They need a few laughs, bad. Even if it is gallows humor, Bill says.

"I'd lie awake at night watching his Adam's apple go up and down, up and down. It was disgusting. Plus, he snores like nobody's business."

That's his pal, says Weckbacher. A firefighter's firefighter, never a dull moment.

The rock with the great sense of humor who helps keep everybody loose even in the tightest situations.

And where these guys and their dogs just returned from after two long weeks was the tightest either of them had ever seen.

Weckbacher is a portfolio manager at UBS in Beverly Hills who trained his dog, Dawson, to work with search-and-rescue teams, just as Monahan trained his own dog, Hunter.

"We were at 9-11 and Oklahoma City together, but this was the most intense because we had live victims mixed in

with deceased," Monahan says.

Some made it, many didn't. One of three little girls they found the first day they arrived didn't. Neither did the 10-year-old boy they begged to hang on. He couldn't.

Both of them will stay on their minds for a long, long time, the men say. Not so for their dogs who sniffed out six or seven trapped victims and saved their lives.

"They don't know where they just were, that they saved lives," Bill says Friday, leaning down to scratch Hunter behind the ears.

"It was just another day of hide and seek for them."

Same for Dawson, Ron says. He'll give his dog the day off and start training again for the next emergency they will be called to.

"It's all fun and games to Dawson," he says, patting his dog sleeping next to his desk. "He loves this."

As much as the memories of the people they couldn't save will linger for a long time, they'll never forget the high moments.

The crowds chanting "USA, USA" and "Obama, Obama," as they pull someone out alive, Bill says.

"What amazed me was how strong the Haitian people are," Ron says. "We pulled out a 50-year-old woman after she was trapped under a ton of concrete for a week.

"I kept thinking, how did you stay alive without any water?"

For the record, his Adam's apple isn't that prominent, and Bill snores, too, Ron says, glad to be home.

"It was so hot and humid in the tent that we kept the dogs outside where it was cooler. But at the end of working 16-hour days, believe me, they were snoring, too."

Welcome home, guys. You made your country proud. You, too, Hunter and Dawson.

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