While heroes are known to wear capes, our heroes come with paws and waggling tails.
Brick and Pet are two invaluable Explosive Detection Dogs (EDD) that joined our humanitarian disarmament program in Lebanon in 2018. Since then, they have cleared more than 29,000 square meters of contaminated land.
The two dogs are currently sniffing for more cluster munitions in Al-Qulaylah, South of Lebanon as part of a Technical Survey (TS) team.
To get a glimpse of the search for explosives performed by dogs, we interviewed Omer Mehic, our dog handler, who shared with us some insights on Brick and Pet, inside and outside the minefields.
20 times faster than humans
Brick and Pet joined Norwegian People's Aid (NPA) Lebanon in 2018 as part of a pilot-project funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, introducing Explosive Detection Dogs in Lebanon. They quickly became irreplaceable.
The dogs are used in a Technical Survey role, meaning they are sent to pieces of land where the Lebanese Mine Action Center (LMAC) and NPA have only a suspicion of contamination from explosive remnants of war. Once they identify the threat, NPA manual clearance teams can intervene and start demining.
In this Technical Survey role, the dogs are very, very efficient. It is estimated that they have the ability to work 20 times faster – yet with the same accuracy – than a human deminer with a metal detector, clearing up to 1,000 m2 of land in a single working day.
Since their introduction in Lebanon’s programme, Pet and Brick have proven the latter by reducing cost and time in finding explosives and identifying contaminated fields.
Smells explosives buried deep down
The introduction of EDDs to Lebanon’s HD programme also allowed for Ahmad Al Akhdar and Kamal Mohsen, both from Lebanese origins, to learn from and be part of this new project. Such opportunity granted the development of national capacity in training dogs, and will hopefully continue to do so in the future.
And for those who wonder if this is dangerous for Brick and Pet, yes it is, as any activity involving explosives. However as dog handler Omer Mehic adds “it is still less dangerous for them than snakes, spiders or scorpions”.
EDD’s systematic search for cluster munitions and mines, although quick, is meticulously performed. Dogs can smell explosives buried several meters under the ground, which diminishes the chance of a mistake happening.
When a dog smells explosive material, it sits still and looks at the ground, then at its handler as a way of communicating the finding.
Brick and Pet, two characters sharing the same joy
“Pet, she’s older but smarter than Brick, of course, she’s a girl.” laughs Omer.
Selectively bred, and carefully nurtured Brick and Pet were born and trained to become Explosive Detection Dogs (EDDs) in Norwegian People’s Aid Global Training Centre (GTC) in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. They are of Belgian Malinois breed, short-haired with charming yet distinct personalities.
Pet is seven years old, and before deployment to Lebanon in 2018, she searched for land mines in South Sudan for five years. Older than her companion, she is calm and precise at work, her tail is always up, and her face often smiling.
Brick, on the other hand, is a young EDD with only two and a half years of age. Genetically, he’s strong with a huge working drive. Energy and speed are his main attributes, along with his constant excitement and positive attitude. Both dogs share a great synergy with their handlers, a fundamental connection that not only makes their work more efficient, but also more enjoyable.
Taken care of around the clock
When asked about how demanding it is to take care of them, Omer replies: “Sometimes I switch with another dog handler, depending which one is available, but I’m always here, even on weekends. In the morning, afternoon, in the evening…”
The dogs’ every day routine starts with waking up at 5:30, then a full health-check is done by the handler before leaving to the field at 6:00. The dogs work in lanes to find cluster munitions, and they energetically do so until 12:00.
Although Brick and Pet are happy while operating, the handlers tend to avoid overworking them. They are back to their kennels by 13:00 for an afternoon rest, which is when the handlers make sure the space is clean, the water is fresh, and there is shade in the summer and blankets in the winter.
Right before sunset, the handler on duty comes back to give the dogs a refresher training session, and feeds them afterwards. It’s a full commitment being a handler, which is why Omer passionately mention that “handlers must have a big love for dogs”.
“I like working with them more than working with people” he laughs.
A relationship beyond work
Although Brick and Pet are wonderful asset for NPA Lebanon program, their value goes beyond efficiently finding explosives. A genuine bond and mutual trust has formed over the past year between them and their handlers.
The bond develops when the handler listens to and respects the dog, treats him or her with care, and gives it undivided attention. “You must nurture the happiness in your dog. If the dog is not ready for work today, don’t work. If you are sick or sad, trust me they will recognize that, and you will see another behavior in them.” Omer further expresses.
If the handler and the dog do not coincide well, one of them is reassigned to a different partner as per the standards of our Global Training Center; that is how crucial the chemistry between them is for the productivity of the work.
In the case of Pet, this relationship goes far beyond work. Indeed, dogs usually serve up to eight years in the field before they retire. Most of the time, their end of service takes place in the Sarajevo training center. But sometimes, ex-EDDs can find a happy family to spend their old days. Pet will retire in a maximum of two years, with no other but her own handler and best friend, Omer, as he plans to adopt her.
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) Technical Survey & Clearance teams are funded by the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID) and the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (NMFA). This 19-month project is taking place in South Lebanon and is implemented in partnership with Mines Advisory Group (MAG). This project will end in March 2020 and by then, NPA and MAG expect to release more than one million square meters of land contaminated by landmines and cluster munitions. Brick and Pet will be instrumental asset of the Technical Survey team. Deployed on Suspected Hazardous Areas, EDDs will contribute to “area reduction”, which takes place when no threat of explosive remnants is identified and thus the land is declared to be safe for use. If an explosive is found during their search, the area is identified as confirmed hazardous area and NPA manual clearance teams take over.
“The Explosive Detection Dogs contributed to the acceptance of Technical Survey being introduced to mine action in Lebanon, and have proved to be very efficient” said Craig McDiarmid, Programme Manager of NPA Lebanon Humanitarian Disarmament department.