Editor’s note: This post was written by Jana Sweeny, the American Red Cross’s Director of International Communications. Jana and her team are traveling around Colombia this week, visiting communities made safer by the global Red Cross network.
As we walk into the Colombian Red Cross training center in Pereira, a yellow lab comes bouncing up, waving her tail enthusiastically. The ball in her mouth turns out to be a lime and she is ready to play fetch. Because I can never say no to a dog, I begin a game of “fetch the lime” with her.
It turns out that Sara isn’t just a fun companion–she is a retired search and rescue dog. The Colombian Red Cross began an intensive program to train both dogs and humans to assist in search and rescue after devastating earthquakes struck the area in the 1980s and ‘90s.
The training center houses classrooms, sleeping quarters, and a kitchen since some of the trainings are multiple days and often too far of a drive from people’s hometowns and villages. They teach intensive first aid, as well as search and rescue classes.
Behind the center is a labyrinth of rubble punctuated by a multi-story tower. Volunteers practice repelling and rescue techniques. There’s a large metal container, rusted with age, filled with debris that trainees must crawl through to simulate a collapsed structure.
This is just one of the training centers located around the country. Some of the centers have been funded by the American Red Cross risk reduction program in Colombia. Each training center teaches hundreds of Red Cross volunteers lifesaving skills each year.
As we walk through the impressive facility, Sara continues to follow closely behind until one of the Colombian Red Cross team members grabs the lime, runs for the piles of rubble and begins to put Sara through her paces.
She heeds commands and waits for the moment when she can jump up on the wall to pursue her beloved lime. Even in retirement, Sara still wants to practice her training and clearly loves the Colombian Red Cross team that’s worked so closely with her.
The dog program is no longer sustainable due to funding; Sara is the last dog left. She’s part of the family and is special to all of the volunteers that train at the facility.
Sara, like the thousands of Colombian Red Cross volunteers, continues to practice her skills knowing that the training, the equipment and the commitment will continue to save lives. But during downtime, why not play a good game of fetch with an old friend?
Turns out Colombians feel just like Americans about their four legged companions—they work beside us, keep us company, and on cold nights lay down at our feet to keep us warm. To help keep them safe, please consider downloading the American Red Cross Pet First Aid App.