Search and rescue dogs from around country training in Indy

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INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Search and rescue dogs play a critical role when any type of disaster strikes. They're among the first on the scene searching for those still alive.

Over the weekend, a dozen such dogs from across the country traveled to Indianapolis to take a test.

Phanesse, a black lab, and her partner Jen Brown, were on a mission. They had 20 minutes to find, or in Phanesse's case, sniff out up to four survivors hidden in large the pile of rubble.

As Phanesse darted across the debris, her every move was watched and scored. It was all part of the test canine search and rescue teams must pass to work for FEMA during real-life disasters.

Indiana Task Force One helps host certification. It's replicated a disaster site at the southside quarry meant to look like a parking garage after an earthquake or a neighborhood after a tornado.

Ryan Cuscak, with Indiana Task Force One said, "we've intentionally placed this debris, whether it's concrete, metal or wood. We want to make is as challenging as we can for the dogs when it comes to their footing and stability."

It's challenging for the volunteers as well who have to hide in places like large concrete culvert staying calm and quiet for several hours as teams of dogs search for them.

Jim Bowden, Indianapolis said, "at first it's claustrophobic, then you just sit back and relax and wait for the dog to start barking."

Among the many things the canine teams are judged on? The dog has to bark three times when a person is found. They're docked for a false alert, because in rescue every minute counts. Roger Picard, a Tampa firefighter knows well. He's been with Florida's Task Force Two for several years.

Picard said," the first call out was the World Trade Center and being in Florida I've been sent to Katrina, Haitti, Hurricane Charley, all those major events.

He and his newest partner, Pilot, a five-year-old lab, were in Indy to get re-certified.

While Picard admits to being nervous saying "of course you are. It's a test."

He said for Pilot and the other dogs, it's just a game of hide and seek.

"He thinks the person hiding under all that concrete, debris and space voids has his favorite toy and if he finds it they will come out and play because that's what happens in training for them and it's fun," Picard said. "For us it's a mission of life and death."

Of the 12 dogs that took the test this weekend, half passed, including Pilot and Phanesse, meaning the next time they're searching in a pile of rubble the stakes will be much higher.

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