A dog search team specializing in the recovery of human bodies is stepping up its training ahead of an expected deployment to Ukraine. Springer spaniel Bracken, sprocker Bramble and Dougal, a Labrador springer spaniel mix, travel to Italy on Thursday to hone their skills while on standby for a trip to the war zone.
Handlers John Miskelly, a British Army veteran, and NHS nurse Emma Dryburgh have received a request to help in Ukraine, but are awaiting confirmation that it is safe enough to travel. They are part of Response Rescue International Scotland and their cadaver dogs, trained to detect the smell of human remains, are said to support the work of the European Association of Civil Protection Volunteer Teams (Evolsar).
Miskelly, of Falkland, Fife, said they will provide “fresh dog handlers” to help the “tired” Ukrainian search teams, who have themselves lost loved ones since Russia launched its invasion in February. The 54-year-old told the PA news agency: “We are on standby with Evolsar to go to Ukraine.
“We are the only two dog handlers for the recovery of victims within Evolsar and a request from a search, rescue and recovery team in Ukraine was submitted directly to us to assist in the recovery of bodies. I have been in contact with them since. the war started.
“Some of them have lost children in the war, some have lost parents. The search, rescue and recovery team leader lost both their parents within two weeks, their houses were bombed, destroyed and everything. And they live in underground shelters and bunkers and so forth.
“When it’s safe to be outside, that team leader goes out with the rest of her men, through the area and they’re collecting bodies, they’re storing civilians that the Russians killed and buried in shallow graves. The pictures she sends me are really disturbing.”
He added: “Those people are tired, tired, their dogs have been destroyed, they have been crushed. We are fresh handlers with fresh dogs and we even have a partner team in the Czech Republic in Prague that we will bring – so fresh handlers, fresh dogs. They are begging for our help.”
Miskelly, who served in the First Battalion Royal Irish Rangers after joining the army at age 16, said the team will undergo five days of training in Italy to prepare them for deployment in Ukraine. He said: “When we entered this world of human remains recovery, it wasn’t just about training the dog, it’s about training yourself. Emma and I did a mental health awareness training, we also did a training on disaster relief, how to deal with things abroad.”
Miskelly said their work in the UK has included assisting the police in Scotland once a search has ended. On the type of skills required, Mr. Miskelly said: “We are looking for a dog with a good drive, a good play drive, a dog that will play with a tennis ball all day, a dog that will search for a tennis ball, and then we can that dog works to introduce the different scents they should be aware of. The reward for them when they get a find is a tennis ball.”
The House of Commons heard the charity has to pay £75 per dog to have them seen by a vet every time they leave the UK due to changes to the rules after Brexit. Last week, Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse told Foreign Secretary Liz Truss: “The service can be seen as an emergency service, and given that they are going to travel to Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary will work with other ministries to see if those allegations can be waived?”
Ms Truss said she would “strongly encourage” the charity to apply directly to the State Department, adding: “We will look into that proposal.” The pet passport scheme between the UK and the EU ended as a result of Brexit and all animals taken into the EU require an animal health certificate.
Mr Miskelly said: “Can we get a special permit or some sort of exemption certificate as long as our dogs are fully vaccinated and have the rabies shot? Can we go back to how it used to be? We are rescuers.”
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