WASHINGTON – Their sensitive snouts are literally life-savers. Mine detection dogs, or MDDs, are specially trained canines that sniff out landmines.
The Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI) is an Arlington-based nonprofit that trains and sends MDDs to war-torn countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We have 183 dogs working in 11 different counties,” says Tycie Horsley, who is the development director at MLI.
The dogs are mainly German Shepherds or Belgian Shepherd dogs, and they train for about six months in Texas or Bosnia. However, training and taking care of MDDs does not come at a low price. Horsley says it costs $25,000 to sponsor just one dog.
The dogs have a heightened sense of smell, which allows them to quickly and safely sniff out explosives. In fact, MDDs can smell and detect mines 30 times faster than other demining tools.
“So many mines are made without any sort of metal, so metal detectors are useless,” Horsley explains.
In 2012, the institute’s MMDs searched and cleared almost 2 million square miles of land, saving tens of thousands of lives. So far, MLI has yet to have a dog killed or injured by landmines.
“They’re very good at what they do,” Horsley says. “They’re just able to save lives.”
The canines are not just mine detection dogs, they are also goodwill ambassadors. Horsley says through CHAMPS (Children Against Mines Program), American children learn about the problem of landmines abroad. From the program, 28 dogs have been sponsored by children in the U.S.
“It’s a great way to link-up kids here with kids in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan. They use things like Skype and Yahoo Messenger. They actually talk to each other and learn about each other’s cultures,” says Horsley, who adds that the children also learn about the devastating impact of landmines.
According to Horsley, American kids have raised money through bake sales and walkathons to provide prosthetic limbs and other medical care for the injured kids.
The dogs retire after working for six-to-eight years. In most situations, the handler adopts the dog. If for some reason, the adoption is not possible, Horsley says the dogs are brought back to the U.S. where they are adopted.