DARRINGTON, Wash. - KIRO 7 got its first look at the Federal Emergency Management Agency search and rescue dogs in Darrington and Oso for recovery operations after the deadly landslide that struck nearly two and a half weeks ago.
The crew of at least 20 dogs and their trainers are coming from as far as Virginia, Utah, Ohio and beyond. They make up the largest team of dogs that FEMA has assembled for an emergency operation.
Crews told KIRO 7 that this is also the first time FEMA has ever assembled the dogs for the recovery of human remains.
“FEMA always operated under the banner of search and rescue missions, and finding people alive with the dog crews,” said Teresa Macpherson, with Virginia FEMA Task Force-1.
"We've proved throughout this event that they are being successful, that they are doing their job and that they are capable of working in this environment that we had no preparation for,” said Sally Dickinson, with the Virginia FEMA team.
FEMA crews could not provide the number of bodies that the dogs have recovered, but they will say they are one of the largest assets searching through the debris.
The dogs operate under dangerous conditions, trudging through muck that at times is 20 feet deep.
They suffer from the cold environment, and they sometimes suffer from small cuts and bruises to the pads of their paws.
A veterinarian checks the animals out on a daily basis.
Dogs and trainers work side by side in shifts of four to eight hours; afterward, the dogs get some much needed rest.
At the end of their shift, the dogs get decontaminated by FEMA crews to avoid bringing back unnecessary and unwanted debris and pathogens.
"Just like the rest of us -- the civilians, the workers, the equipment -- we have to get washed so we can go back to our base of operations,” says Rick Cox, with Washington FEMA Task Force-1.
Crews told KIRO 7 they originally committed to working 14 days at the landslide site, but they say they’ll be out there for however long the mission might be.