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Rescue dogs in the air

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It’s a rare sight to see a large dog on board an aircraft. On 1 December 2011 three such animals were aboard one of our flights from Milan to Zurich as part of a special exercise of the Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio (S.I.C.S). In English, the organisation calls itself the Italian School of Water Rescue Dogs.

Three rescue dogs named “Mas”, “Al” and “Blondy” from the Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio (see final paragraph for further information) and five members of the organisation, including Ferruccio Pilenga, S.I.C.S president, conducted a test flight aboard a SWISS flight on Thursday, 1 December 2011. These specially trained dogs – a Labrador and two Newfoundlanders – were transported in the cabin aboard flight LX1617 from Milan to Zurich. In its role as a partner of the organisation, SWISS conducted the first boarding tests back in July in order to prepare the teams for flights worldwide. In future, S.I.C.S will present its dogs and their training programme to other organisations and support countries dealing with emergency situations.

As a rule, regular dogs are permitted to fly in the cargo hold. An exception in this regard is made for dogs and other small pets that together with their container weigh no more than eight kilograms. But the dogs of the Italian rescue organisation are permitted to travel in the cabin because they are highly sensitive animals that must be in top form and ready for duty immediately upon arrival. In addition, rescue dogs have been specially trained and know to behave properly during a flight. Their handler or trainer with whom they have been acquainted for many years sits right next to them in the cabin, specifically in the last row of SWISS Economy. Because these dogs have been specially trained they are used to sitting still and remaining quiet for extended periods of time.

For the first test flight the S.I.C.S team went through the same procedure as all other passengers. After checking in they proceeded through the security checkpoint to boarding. The dogs and their handlers were permitted to board the aircraft first because the seats assigned to the dogs are covered with special blankets. The flight went very calmly. The dogs sat quietly or slept on their seats and most passengers were not even aware of the test flight taking place. Prior to departure from Milan and after arrival in Zurich, the dogs did meet with an enthusiastic reception from fellow travellers, however.

What is S.I.C.S?
S.I.C.S is an Italian school for the training of rescue dogs and their handlers for deployment in water emergencies. Worldwide, drowning is the second most common cause of accidental death behind car accidents. Rescue in such situations is always difficult, with time and physical strength as two fundamental elements. It is not uncommon for the rescuers themselves to be in danger. The dog breeds that form the Italian rescue squad are Newfoundlander, Labrador and Retriever, all of which are enthusiastic about water and weigh at least 30 kilos. They and their handler undergo a three-year training programme as rescue swimmers. This specific type of training, in which the dog and its handler become an experienced and inseparable pair, is offered only in Italy. The unconditional trust between dog and human is the basis for the rescue of drowning persons.

Photos from the first S.I.C.S. test flight aboard SWISS between Milan and Zurich can be viewed on our Flickr channel.