Turkey’s hero detector dogs save thousands of lives

Turkey’s hero detector dogs save thousands of lives

The Ankara Police Department’s Dog Training Center trains hundreds of sniffer dogs, who save thousands of lives every year. (PHOTOSUNDAY’S ZAMAN, Ali Ünal)

May 06, 2012, Sunday/ 13:17:00

Over the past few years, sniffer dogs trained by the Ankara Police Department’s Dog Training Center (KEM) in Ankara’s Gölbaşı district have detected many bombs and explosives planted by illegal groups across Turkey and rescued people trapped under rubble after earthquakes, saving thousands of lives.

 Few know about the story of these heroes who work tirelessly to save human lives.

KEM director Oğuz Aydın worked as head of the narcotics division for many years. He is such an expert that he can tell what kind of narcotics are inside a package seized by the police just by looking at the contents from a distance. The walls of his office are filled with awards for his achievements in international narcotics operations. These awards include tokens of appreciation from a long range of countries, from the United States to Balkan nations.

He is known for his modest personality, as well as for his strong character and perseverance. When he switched to working with police dogs, he was able to master the job in eight months. He shares the secret of his success: “I am working with people so talented that they would probably rank among the top dog trainers in the whole world. First, I listened to them for a long time. Later, I went into the field. Once you get into a dog’s head, you get to know them.”

Aydın and his colleagues work together as if they are a family. Everyone in the KEM division is a fan of his job. They even do the cleaning of the kennels together. “We don’t keep people who don’t like their jobs here,” said Aydın, who has also involved his family in his job and assigned one dog to his son, contributing to his son’s appreciation and love of animals.

“During the Van earthquake there was a rescue team working around a collapsed building. A small girl was trapped under the rubble. She heard the paws of the dog, she later said, but couldn’t shout. The dog found her scent and was the reason for her rescue. This little child had never approached a dog before because of her religious views, but she put her arms around the dog and kissed him. Now she sometimes comes to Ankara to visit the dog.”

The most unpopular figure at KEM is Mehmet Akif Yılmaz -- a butcher, in the opinion of most of the dogs. He can never don white scrubs like other veterinary doctors, though, because there is always the risk that a dog will stop sniffing and try to run if a smuggler is wearing white clothes. “The biggest dream of all the dogs here,” Yılmaz says, “is to catch me napping. They think I am always doing ‘bad’ things to them.” Of course, most of the more painful operations are carried out under anesthesia, but Yılmaz complains he’ll never become a beloved member of the team for many of the dogs. Most of the dogs are taken to the clinic at KEM for psychological or orthopedic reasons. Just like school kids, they want to skip classes and sometimes develop a school phobia. Two dogs in the clinic during our visit were actually “faking” illness to ditch their classes that day. However, Yılmaz, who knows the dogs really well, shouted at one of them, who pretended not to be able to walk: “You faker! Get up and go to class!” The previously immobile dog ran off to his training session.

The majority of the dogs the Turkish public sees in the press have been trained by expert trainer Tamer Şahiner. KEM, since the day of its establishment, has seen seven directors, but Şahiner has always been there. He doesn’t remember the number of dogs he has trained. He says that when he watches a success story about one of his dogs on television he gets tears in his eyes. “I am so proud of them. It is almost like a primary school teacher seeing one of their students from grade school graduate from university and find a job.” Şahiner says his work is reflected in every aspect of his life, including his family. “My son tells my wife, ‘Mom, daddy talks to me like he talks to the doggies’.”

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