Growing up we’ve heard of the sled dogs hauling supplies and medicine through the cold, saving people’s lives, but now we’re seeing dogs being trained to save the lives of those who could be drowning.
In Italy, a school known as the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs (Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio, or SICS) has trained about 350 dogs to patrol beaches and work as lifeguards. The program takes about 18 months of basic training, and once the dogs have successfully completed these steps, they move onto an intensive program focusing on lifesaving techniques such as jumping from helicopters and leaping from speeding boats.
Out of 300 units, each one consists of a trainer and one dog, watching over approximately 30 of the busiest beaches across the country.
Earlier in August, there were strong wind and wave conditions, that pulled families and children 330 feet away from shore. Three canine lifeguards and their trainers rushed in to pull everyone back to safety. It took the dogs Eros, Mya, and Mira and their trainers about 15 minutes to save the day.
“To be able to use a dog in a water rescue mission gives the rescuer a leg up. The rescuer who operates on his own is alone. We are never alone. We are always in a team with our dog so it’s a six-legged unit. I can conserve my energy and become a more effective rescuer,” 59-year-old Ferruccio Pilenga, the brains behind the SICS program, told the Great Big Story. “To make [people] understand, I always say, ‘To pull a sled, it takes at least six dogs, to pull six people, you only need one dog.”
So far, Italy is the only country to recognize certified dogs as lifeguards, however, there are training centers being set up in the U.S., Germany, Switzerland, and the Azores.
Watch below the Great Big Story video about the lifeguard dogs below.