Move over Pamela Anderson. There are some new lifeguards in town.
A group of dogs — mostly Newfoundlands but with a few Labradors — are watching over Italy’s beaches this summer.
These dogs are not just your ordinary type of lifeguard. They have been trained to jump out of helicopters and rescue people drowning in the sea.
They are credited with having saved several lives by taking lifebuoys to swimmers and towing them to safety.
All of these brave dogs are graduates of the Italian Dog Rescue School, set up by Ferrucio Pilenga, who claims it is the first and only academy of its type in the world. Pilenga had the idea of opening this special school in 1988.
Pilenga wanted to train his own Newfoundland, Mas, to save people in the water. Since there was no organization out there like this, he and Mas decided to create one together. They took advice from the navy.
Stories of the Newfoundland’s legendary aquatic ability prompted Pilenga to train them as lifeguards.
Pilenga said that even though Newfoundlands have a great aptitude for water, it is still extremely difficult to train these dogs to jump out of helicopters.
From The New Zealand Herald:
“Instinct alone is not enough, it’s difficult for a dog to rescue a drowning man because he is flailing and splashing and runs the risk of drowning the person (or dog) who is attempting the rescue. But after innumerable experiments we found a way to do it that worked.”
Nearly 20 years on, Mr Pilenga is proud to boast that “my dogs are the only ones in the world who are able to jump into water from a helicopter over water…For the dog it’s not just a question of jumping from different heights but also of learning not to be distracted by noise, by wind or by the waves whipped up by the helicopter’s rotors.”
The dogs leap with their human colleagues - but Pilenga points out that they can also be invaluable in situations where human beings are useless.
“For example, near dangerous rocks, where it is difficult for a boat to go close because of the danger of being smashed against the rocks. Enter the dog: attached to the rope, he swims to the person in trouble with a lifebuoy, and the drowning person can then be towed to safety.”
It takes three years for a dog to be fully trained to be a lifeguard. There are 10 of these schools around Italy.