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JoAnna Lou
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Canine Lifeguards
Italian pups train to rescue humans in troubled waters

After vacationing abroad recently, I’ve been jealous of the abundance of parks and beaches in Europe that allow dogs. 

But in Italy, not all of the beach dogs are just lounging in the sun all day, some are also helping to keep the ocean safe. These working pups are graduates of the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs in Civitavecchia. Currently 300 dogs have been certified through the three-year program. 

The canine lifeguards are trained to jump from helicopters and boats, carry a buoy or raft, and tow victims to shore. The dogs play an important role in rescuing the 3,000 people saved by the Italian Coast Guard each year

According to program coordinator, Roberto Gasbarri, canine lifeguards have an advantage over humans because they can easily jump into the water and reach victims quickly. One dog can single handedly pull a boat of 30 people to shore. The canine lifeguards can even help reduce fatigue in the human rescuers by towing handlers to victims for medical attention. 

Think your crew has what it takes? The school will train any breed, as long as they weigh at least 30 kilograms (66 pounds) and are confident in the water, though Labrador Retrievers and Newfoundlands are most common.  Each dog works with a volunteer handler, who also acts as the animal's trainer.

I don’t think my water phobic pups will be lifeguards anytime soon, but I’m thankful for the people and dogs who donate their time to keeping the beaches safe.

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JoAnna Lou is a New York City-based researcher, writer and agility enthusiast.

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