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Explosive sniffing dogs saving lives around the world

Updated: Jul 29, 2020

During the week of September 16, 2019, multiple reports of working dog abuse were published. The reports do not involve dogs donated by the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI). None of MLI's donated dogs have been injured or harmed while at work. 

Since the inception of our Mine Detection Dog Partnership Program in 2001, MLI has donated 235 landmine detection dogs (MDDs) and 15 explosive detection dogs (EDDs) to local clearance organizations in the world’s most severely mine-contaminated countries including Afghanistan, Angola, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia Herzegovina, Eritrea, Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Sri Lanka, and Thailand. MLI’s dogs have searched more than 50 million square meters of land, the equivalent of nearly ten thousand football fields. Their efforts have saved countless lives, improved livelihoods for millions, enabled refugees and internally displaced persons to return safely to their homes, and significantly contributed to indigenous demining capacities by accelerating the pace of national landmine clearance operations.

The vast majority of MLI’s lifesaving explosive-sniffing dogs have been sponsored by caring, private Americans, including schoolchildren. Nearly a dozen of these incredible creatures have been sponsored by the US Government.

The donation of a highly trained dog is just a portion of MLI’s canine programs. MLI ensures that each dog is properly bonded to a human handler, who is trained to safely & effectively employ the dog in the field in accordance with International Mine Action Standards. This in-country training of the dog-handler teams is often funded by the US Department of State. MLI remains attentive to the health and welfare of the gifted dogs throughout their lifetime, including retirement in a loving, caring home after a typical working life of six to eight years in the field. MLI prioritizes the wellbeing and treatment of its donated MDDs and EDDs.

The recipients of MLI’s donated dogs must sign a donation document with MLI agreeing to strict rules and procedures that include the following:

- Train and utilize the donated dog in a safe and effective manner for the intended purpose of humanitarian demining

- Provide a motivated handler for the dog

- House the dog in a clean, well-ventilated and spacious kennel, with adequate cooling and heating

- Provide adequate health care for the dog

- Feed the dog high quality dog food

- Exercise, groom and play with the dog on a daily basis

- Use temporary transit kennels that are large enough for the dog to sit up in

- Send quarterly reports to MLI for the working life of the dog, and regular updates up on retirement

- Retire the dog to a loving, caring retirement home at the end of the dog’s working life. If there is any difficulty in finding a loving and caring home, MLI will repatriate

the dog and find a home in the host country or the U.S.

Dog and handler, Bosnia. Photo courtesy of Bittersweet Magazine.

The in-country training courses and subsequent field supervision that MLI provides whenever donating dogs to a new organization take significant time and expense, but are well worth the effort. Intensive training and supervision help to ensure that the organization receiving the dogs has the guidance and education necessary to utilize the dogs as intended and to properly care for the dogs according to MLI’s high standards. None of MLI’s 250 donated dogs have been injured or killed during operations, and we are thankful to our expert trainers and partner organizations whose care helps to ensure the animals’ health, well-being, and high level of performance and safety in the field.

The quarterly reports and photos, as well as regular site visits conducted by MLI program managers and donors, help keep MLI appraised of the well-being of our donated dogs throughout their working and retired lives.

MLI is proud to play a leading role in the deployment of MDDs worldwide and takes very seriously the responsibility of sending “man’s best friend” to work in faraway lands. MLI honors one outstanding MDD or EDD team working around the world each year at our annual Clearing the Path Gala. Next month, the 2019 Team of the Year will arrive in Washington D.C. from Sri Lanka to receive an award and deserved recognition from donors, U.S. Government officials, and industry leaders.

There are countless heartwarming stories of the human-canine bond that we love to share.

Lebanon, one of MLI’s longest standing partner countries, recently sent us a story of MDD Brick and his Lebanese handler. The handler had the following to say about his dog:

"In the field, I feel confident in walking behind Brick with no hesitation at all. I take pride in his abilities to discover every threat in our way no matter how small or how deep. I really appreciate how attached he is to me to the point that he only accepts his food only if I pour it for him. He is very obedient and I can feel that he doesn’t care about anything else when I’m walking alongside him. I love this dog so much and I just wish I had him since a long time ago!!"
MDD Brick and handler, Lebanon

Azerbaijan, another longstanding MLI partner country, had the following to say about MDD Esgimo and his handler:

"The relationship between Esgimo and his handler Vahid is remarkable. Their usual daily routine starts early in the morning, when Vahid take his dog out for a run, and play a little before starting to work. Every day, Vahid and Esgimo work in boxes to maintain the search capability. In the minefield, they are the best team ever. Vahid have such a great confidence in Esgimo, and that trust motivates other mine detection dog teams to work harder and build such a relationship. Vahid loves his dog so much and takes a good care of him, and Esgimo returns that love by being his best friend."
MDD Mono and handler, Kurdistan

When a MDD or EDD passes away, the loss is felt acutely, especially by the handler. In Sri Lanka, the Sri Lankan Army honors a dog’s passing with an Arlington-like ceremony, complete with tombstones and flower wreaths. The Army remembers the passing of a retired dog, writing, “The noble and valuable Service you have rendered to the [Army] and as a whole to the Country was tremendous. You will be remembered and your name will be engraved in our hearts always.”

MLI is proud of the work that our hero canines and their handlers perform in war-torn countries. As long as the hidden killers of mines and other unexploded ordnance continue to plague nations, the Marshall Legacy Institute will continue to work to free them of mines and build sustainable local programs to foster long-lasting peace.

EDD training with Peshmerga handler in Iraqi Kurdistan. Photo courtesy of Rudaw.


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