HUALIEN, TAIWAN (AFP) - A rookie golden labrador on his first ever mission has won praise for helping Taiwanese search and rescue workers find two people trapped in a severely damaged building following a deadly earthquake.
Four-year-old Tie Hsiung, whose name translates to "Iron Hero", braved dangerous aftershocks on his first field test to search for survivors after a 6.4-magnitude quake struck the popular eastern tourist city of Hualien on Tuesday, killing 10 people.
Thanks to the determined dog, one person trapped for 15 hours was finally located relatively unscathed and pulled from the wreckage of the precariously leaning Marshal Hotel.
"The terrain was quite dangerous with glass and nails," 28-year-old trainer Li Chun-sheng told AFP, beaming with pride.
"I thought he may be too afraid, but he was able to overcome this to go into the rubble pile, so I think he did great."
The other person pulled from the rubble succumbed to their injuries.
As soon as the quake struck, Tie Hsiung flew out with a rescue team from the western city of Taichung alongside his training companion, fellow labrador Tuei Tuei ("Leg-Leg"), who is also four years old.
It was a mission the canines had trained extensively for - but until now they had never been truly tested.
Tuei Tuei's trainer Lin You-zhun applauded his own black labrador who was sent to search the hotel's upper floors.
"Usually we choose where and when we train, and it is always in a safe area. But during a natural disaster, we never know when there will be aftershocks," said Lin, also 28.
Taichung mayor Lin Chia-lung gave a special mention to the canine pair, praising them for "achieving a great merit" while netizens quickly dubbed the duo the "pride of Taichung" as photos of the dogs went viral.
Li said Tie Hsiung had to be taken to the vet Thursday morning as he suffered inflammation in his ear, which may have been due to allergies, the weather, or stress.
'TOO LIVELY' TO BE DRUG DOGS
The pair were picked from a customs training centre where they failed to make the cut as drug detection dogs - which according to Lin was because they were "too lively." But that asset was exactly what authorities were looking for in earthquake rescue dogs.
"When choosing a dog, we want one to be playful and like to eat so we can incentivise them to work. They also have to be bold, so not to be afraid of any sound or machinery," said Li.
Rescue dog teams were not fully established in Taiwan until about seven years ago, according to Chou Tsung-chi, a senior trainer with the National Fire Agency.
He recalled how teams flew in from other countries to assist Taiwan in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in 1999 that killed around 2,400 people.
"Everyone had search dogs, but we didn't," said Chou, adding that Taiwan today has trained up around 50.
"Dogs have an incredibly strong olfactory ability," he told AFP.
"No matter how sensitive or skilled a person is, they are no match for dogs."