Rehabilitated stray dogs search for victims

KHO KHAO, Thailand — Thailand has turned to three members
of a crack military team to help recover from the tsunami disaster
— Maklua, Makok and Bua Daeng, a trio of bomb-sniffing dogs who
once roamed the streets as strays.

Nearly two years ago, King Bhumibol Adulyadej suggested there
were better uses for strays than rounding them up and killing them.
He proposed that the dogs be trained to detect bombs and drugs.

The monarch also inspired the idea to use the dogs to help with
the rescue effort after the titanic wave engulfed coastal areas,
said Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"His Majesty advised that Thai dogs can work better in rough
areas than imported foreign dogs, so I ordered the army to deploy
Thai dogs to help search for dead bodies," Thaksin said.

There are several dozen former strays in military service, but
Maklua, Makok and Bua Daeng were the most immediately available for
the search operation.

The dogs' small size and agility makes it easier for them than
for humans to sniff around in the nooks and crevices of debris and
the tangle of mangrove swamps.

Already highly disciplined, they still needed a crash course in
sniffing out human remains, so they were trained with pieces of
rotting pork.

"The dogs will help recover bodies that humans could not
immediately see with their own eyes," said Capt. Phuthiphong
Jaengsuk, chief of the army's dog search unit.

Late last week, they were deployed to Kho Khao island, where 70
people were killed and 300 remain missing from a population of just
more than 1,000. Thailand's overall death toll is almost 5,300
people, with more than 3,700 others missing.

Maklua, Makok and Bua Daeng take the lead as the trainers cling
to their leashes. It's a difficult task.

"There is a lot of broken glass, nails and a wet surface,
making it difficult for the dogs because it could hurt their
feet," said Sgt. Samarn Nangwong.

One day last week they had an elephant helping them.

"They seemed to have very good teamwork. The dogs sniffed for
bodies and then the elephant used its trunk to remove the debris
and get the body out," the trainer said.

"Bua Daeng was frightened at first when he looked up and saw a
giant elephant standing nearby, but he later worked very well with
the elephant," he said.

Some of their discoveries were false leads — a decaying fish or
dead animal.

But the dogs proved their worth by discovering four bodies in
two days — two policemen, a man in his 40s and a little girl about
6 years old.

"These dogs are strong," said another trainer, Sgt. Thongsuk
Sinchareon. "These dogs have gone through a lot because they used
to have difficult lives, eating one day and then starving the