We’ve all seen the sniffing dogs at the WTC site which, I presume, are looking for live (or dead?) human bodies. Dogs possess acute smelling skills which make them great for this job, but they seem too big for the task at hand.
Wouldn’t a smaller, rodentlike animal that can really burrow into the nooks and crannies be better? Do any such creatures possess the needed olfactory skills? And are they trainable?
There are many small animals that are capable of smelling out or finding buried people, but they tend to be too hard to train and too difficult to get a good breeding line going. Dogs are very obediant (with good training), less independant-minded (like a cat), and so on. They’ve been cross-bred so many times for specific traits and there is a good supply of dogs to choose from, so they are generally the best choice. They’re also bigger/tougher and can cover more ground than say a mole. It would be interesting to train an african ant-eater to dig people out - they can smell things in the dirt very well and have huge digging claws (and can dig faster than three men with shovels) - but can you imagine the hassle of finding one and getting it trained if it’s even possible? - Dogs do a very good job, so we stick with them.
I saw them using cats on ‘the pile’ in New York. In this case they had tied cameras to the cats and then sent them in since they were more capable of wiggling through small holes than a dog would be. I have no idea if the cats were specially trained for this or not (I assume they’d have to be trained at least enough to accept a camera being tied to them without freaking…I know my cats wouldn’t accept such a thing taped to their body).
On my local radio this morning, the commentator mentioned that the rescuers on scene were beginning to have problems with rats. As you can imagine, the rats aren’t there to help.
I think the key to using rescue dogs is their keen sense of smell and sociable,submissive demeanor. No smaller animal that I can readily think of has both, otherwise we’d have hordes of drug-sniffing monkeys.
It seems that most of the dogs I’ve seen on the news are medium to large breeds, with none of them being much smaller than a beagle. Even given that a bloodhound has a better sense of smell than a Chihuahua, any dog is going to have a better chance of finding survivors than a human being would, and I’d think having trained smaller breeds would be useful. From what I can tell the dogs are always very close to their trainers when they work, it might be that it is a team effort, maybe a dog on its own burrowing through rubble wouldn’t be effective?