the sos dog squad (10/10)

This lighthearted documentary series profiles remarkable animals across the globe. The last instalment of the series focuses on some truly Herculean hounds – three working dogs who are so adept at their jobs that they leave their human counterparts in the dust. There is Saxon, the pooch who can sniff out suspicious circumstances in burnt buildings; Bilbo, the craggy canine who patrols the dangerous shores of Cornwall; and Orson, the awesome avalanche rescue dog.

Human beings are only just realising how valuable an asset man’s best friend really is. There are fiveand- a-half million domestic dogs in Britain, but only a fraction of them have important jobs to do. Saxon is a three-year-old Labrador who is the prize asset of the Hampshire Arson Task Force. He has the amazing ability to smell ignitable fluids in burnt-out buildings and prove that fires were started deliberately. “We can deploy Saxon into a fire scene, and Saxon will search that fire scene a lot faster than a human fire investigator with the old conventional apparatus,” says Saxon’s proud owner Graham.

The effervescent Labrador loves to chase tennis balls that Graham throws him, and has been trained to smell minute traces of petrol, lighter fluid and other combustibles, knowing that if he does so he will get the reward of a tennis ball to chase.

Wearing a fire-resistant jacket and little mittens to protect his paws, Saxon bounds into the fire station where Graham has left random droplets of petrol, and eagerly locates them in seconds, pointing at the exact spot with his nose and frantically pointing with a paw. “Work is play and play is work with Saxon,” beams Graham, tossing his canine charge a much-coveted tennis ball. Can Saxon prove his worth in a test situation – a burnt-out building with only tiny droplets of petrol scattered around the wreckage?

Another admirable animal is Bilbo, a five-yearold Newfoundland, who is a trusty sidekick to lifeguard Steve Jamieson. Steve has patrolled the hazardous coastline of Sennon Cove in Cornwall for 32 years. His secret weapon in rescuing imperilled surfers and swimmers is his huge, bearlike partner who can swim with immense power, and has been responsible for saving many lives.

“They used to use [Newfoundlands] in ‘Moby Dick’ days on whaling ships,” explains Steve. “When the men used to row out and try to harpoon the whale by hand, quite often these boats would capsize and the men thrown to the sea. Two or three of these dogs would swim out to where the men were and drag them back.”

Bilbo, despite his lumbering gait and unwieldy frame, is perfectly adapted for life in the water. He has webbing around his paws, a strong tail which acts as a rudder in the water, and a thick, shaggy coat of fur. “In effect, he’s actually got his own wetsuit,” says Steve. Bilbo proves his staggering skills by pulling Steve around in the water with ease. However, can Bilbo outdo a 25-year-old super-fit lifeguard in the water?

Completing the trio of wonder-dogs is awesome Orson, saviour of avalanche victims in the treacherous Alps. The ten-year-old Border collie can be airlifted to an avalanche site and can sniff out humans trapped up to two-and-a-half metres under the snow. Orson can usually locate buried skiers in double-quick time, while it would take 20 humans 20 hours to do the same thing.

Time is truly of the essence, as humans entombed under the suffocating debris only have 15 minutes before their oxygen runs out. Like Bilbo and Saxon before him, Orson is put to the test when a member of the rescue team is trapped under the snow for the dog to find. Can he rescue him in time?

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