Canine Lifeguards Doggie Paddle to the Rescue

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Italy's Coast Guard is using hundreds of specially trained dogs to help the country's lifeguards with water rescues.

Both the lifeguards and their canine partners are trained at 12 schools around Italy. Currently, 300 dogs have been trained for duty.

"Dogs are useful in containing the physical fatigue of the lifeguard, to increase the speed at which casualties are retrieved, to increase the security of both the casualty and of the lifeguard," said Roberto Gasbarri, who coordinates the Italian School of Canine Lifeguards program at a center outside of Rome in the seaside town of Civitavecchia.

"The dog becomes a sort of intelligent lifebuoy. It is a buoy that goes by itself to a person in need of help, and comes back to the shore also by himself, choosing the best landing point and swimming through the safest currents," he said.

These "lifedogs" are willing to jump from a moving boat or jet-ski to rescue drowning swimmers.
Some of the most qualified breeds for the specialty rescue training are Labrador's and Golden Retrievers since they have natural water instincts.

"Being retrievers, they set out to pick up anything we tell them, be it a human being, an object, or a fish, and they bring it back to the shore," lifeguard Monia Luciani said. "They do not associate it with a physical activity, but it is rather a game for them."

The Italian Coast Guard has to make more than 3,000 rescues every year, and their canine recruits have already been credited with saving several lives.

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