Israel’s specially trained search-and-rescue dogs save lives and help protect Israelis from terror attacks.
By Tsivya Fox-Dobuler
In Israel, the first entity to respond to missing persons calls is often the Israel Dog Unit (IDU), which frequently arrives to help even before the Israel Defense Forces. The IDU is also often first on the scene to stop terrorists trying to infiltrate communities.
“The Israel Dog Unit saves lives every day in Judea, Samaria, and the Negev, including Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh and the Hebron region,” explained Micha Katz, IDU Gush Etzion-Efrat branch Commander, in conversation with United With Israel (UWI). “Our dogs stop terrorists in their tracks and find missing persons throughout Israel.”
Every year, nearly 4,000 people go missing in Israel. This includes Alzheimer’s patients and otherwise disoriented individuals, children and hikers who lose their way or get injured in the wilderness, inexperienced travelers who miscalculate Israel’s scorching temperature in the Negev, those attempting suicide, people lost in collapsed buildings, and people drowning in the Sea of Galilee, among others.
“With our dogs, we can sometimes find people within a few minutes, sometimes within days and, in some cases, we continue searching for years,” Katz said. “We are the only unit in the country that has a special app that records all efforts made to find a missing person.”
IDU volunteers keep track of every rescue effort, whether through the use of their specially trained dogs or searches by horses, planes, drones, cars, or other means.
“We then map out the searched areas,” Katz explained. “In this way, we maintain a full picture of search and rescue efforts.”
Additionally, the dogs stop agricultural terrorism and theft on farms and provide security for Jewish communities, often in remote areas.
“In the south, there are thousands of greenhouses that are covered by plastic,” Katz told UWI. “Once inside, the plastic makes such a noise that you think you are in a helicopter. You cannot hear the person next to you. A farmer had 80 tons of watermelons stolen from him one summer. We sent dogs to the agriculturist to prevent any more thefts, or worse. The dogs run up and down the rows of the greenhouses smelling for people. If they smell something, they bark until security personnel come to check it out. If the thief tries to attack anyone, the dogs are trained to stop them.”
The canine unit was founded 19-years-ago by Yekutiel (Mike) Ben Yaakov Guzofsky. It imports, breeds and trains patrol dogs to be powerful, confident and successful in their missions. About 110 dogs are dispatched throughout Israel, all under the auspices of IDU.
“Just today, we received two phone calls from the police and fire-department to rescue people in the north,” Guzofsky told UWI. “Due to the storms, someone went missing and our services were needed. Last year, we did 189 search and rescue missions.”
Safety and Security
The dogs are also crucial to the security of many communities. With their keen sense of smell and sight, they sense what people cannot. Just like an elite soldier must constantly stay in top fighting shape, so too the dogs in the canine unit must be continuously trained.
Once a week, the Defense Department conducts trainings in Gush Etzion and Kfar Tapuach. An additional eight days a month of training are provided by the commanders of IDU.
“Every day, the dogs need to run 10-15 kilometers,” Katz said. “I usually run with them. It would be very helpful to receive a few treadmills through donations for the dogs.”
Support for the life-saving IDU comes nearly entirely from the rescue volunteers themselves or private donations. They do not receive financial assistance from the government.
“We pay for these special breeds of dogs, their extraordinary care, their food, and everything needed to ensure that they are at their [best] to save lives,” said Katz.
He told UWI that volunteers not only give their tithes and time to IDU, but their personal cars take a beating when used for search and rescue.
“People don’t get lost in cities. There, they can just ask someone for help,” Katz said. “They disappear in remote areas and in the mountains or desert. If someone is missing, we use our own cars, our own gas to find them. There’s nothing more important than saving a life. But our cars get banged up, hit with rocks, punctures, and worn down.”
Katz said that the IDU needs all-terrain vehicles so the volunteers don’t need to use their own cars in search and rescue efforts. They also need a kennel.
‘We had a kennel but it burned down from an electric fire a year and a half ago,” explained Katz.”At any given time, we have 8-30 dogs at our house. Volunteers can never go on vacation because they need a place for these specialized dogs to stay. A proper kennel would make a huge difference to both the dogs and the volunteers.”
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