Handler Teresa Thorpe passes her dog Belle to another rescue worker while assisting with earthquake relief in Mexico. Submitted Photo
Some things take a team effort, just like Teresa Thorpe and her dog Belle, who just came back from Mexico City as they assisted with searching for survivors after the recent 7.1 magnitude earthquake.
Thorpe and her dog are part of the Canadian Search and Disaster Dogs Association (CASDDA), which sent seven members with six search and rescue dogs to the help with one of the deadliest earthquakes in central Mexico.
“It went well, we managed to locate a few people, most of which were deceased. There was one live person that the team managed to locate. We were quite happy about that,” explained Thorpe.
The CASDDA trains and deploys dogs and their handlers to search for missing people which are trapped under rubble or drowned under water.
Belle and Thorpe were in Mexico City for 10 days, as they searched for victims buried under the rubble.
The team was able to locate the final victim of the school which collapsed.
“We aren’t sure if it was a teacher, but it was a woman we had managed to locate,” said Thorpe.
This type of job isn’t for everyone, but Thorpe and Belle have definitely embraced it.
“Our job is to go into the pile and localize where the person might be, then we go off the pile and they will dig, or move some more debris and we will go back on and localize … but we aren’t there for the actual recovery,” she said.
For Belle, it’s just a game trying to localize where a person is.
“They think they are going to get their toy all the time, and the only time that doesn’t necessarily happen is in a real-life situation, but they still get their toy because in that case, we give it to them. They still get their reward and that’s all they are looking for. They learn to associate their toy with those missing people,” she said.
As for the handlers, Thorpe noted it’s different for each person when on the job.
“For me, it’s all about I’m there just to help give some closure, whether it’s finding the loved one or at least recovering the loved one so they can say they’re proper farewells,” she said.
The team was in Mexico on Friday and then woke up Saturday to another earthquake.
“While we weren’t feeling the tremors or anything like that, we woke up to the alarms,” she said.
The team was called in by the civil protection services, which they have an ongoing relationship with Mexico.
“The Mexican people overall, whether we were able to find one person or 50, they were just so grateful that we were willing to come and help out,” she said.
This was the second time Thorpe and Belle had been deployed abroad, nearly a year ago they were sent to Haiti after the devastating Hurricane Matthew.
“Every mission is different in their own way,” said Thorpe.
She noted in Mexico there wasn’t as much massive destruction as what she saw in Haiti.
“You would go to a site and people were coming in droves to help clear rubble, they were feeding you, there were vets on hand once they came off the rubble. There was just so much help in that way that there wasn’t in Haiti,” Thorpe said.
They are all volunteers, and most have full-time jobs, like Thorpe who is an accounting supervisor.
She said she is lucky because her work is very accommodating when she gets sent out on missions with sometimes a moment’s notice.
Being able to do what she does with Belle is very important to her, as it is a cause close to her heart.
“I had some family members that had gone missing and eventually located, deceased, so it’s just something that is close to home if I can help another family member it makes it worthwhile,” Thorpe said.