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Okinawa, Japan – Meita Terukina, Food Service Manager at the Coral Cove club on Torii Station and his three-year-old Doberman Pinscher, Don, went on their first mission together as a search and rescue dog team to help search for survivors of the catastrophic earthquake and subsequent tsunami that ravaged northern Japan on March 11.

Terukina and Don, who are one of only six volunteer rescue dog teams in Okinawa, and two other teams travelled to the port city of Kamaishi in Iwate Prefecture on March 14 where they spent four days diligently searching for survivors in the devastated city.

The rescue effort was difficult due to the extensive amount of damage, rubble and debris coupled with fires that had consumed nearly eighty percent of the city. 

“It was very terrible.  There was sludge everywhere and to make matters worse, it began to snow. It smelled like fire.  It was so quiet and surreal.  We felt the earth shake while we were there.  We couldn’t find any survivors after four days of searching, but we wanted to stay and continue to search.  I still worry about Kamaishi,” said Terukina.

Terukina, who has been training Don since he was a puppy, began to volunteer with the Okinawa Rescue Dog Association a year and a half ago to train therapy dogs and police dogs.

“I wanted to do something to help people, so I started training rescue dogs,” he said.

The dogs are highly trained in search and rescue procedures and, using their sense of smell, will alert in the event they locate a person who is injured or trapped. 

“We are constantly training the dogs and working with them so they are trained and ready to help at any time.  For the mission in Kamaishi, we brought Don and Mira, a German Shepherd, and Boss, a Boston Terrier, because they are in the best condition,” said Terukina.

It may come as a surprise to some people to learn that a Boston Terrier can be used as a search and rescue dog, but using the small breed has its benefits.

 “We use small dogs because they can fit into small spaces and small openings where the larger dogs can’t fit,” said Terukina.

Terukina is currently working with his 10-month-old German Shepherd, Lei, training her to become a search and rescue dog. 

But his dedication to helping people doesn’t end there.  He has trained his other two dogs, a Dachshund and a mixed breed, to become therapy dogs. 

Therapy dogs help by providing comfort and affection to people in hospitals, nursing homes and schools.  They are also very beneficial in calming people who have experienced traumatic or stressful situations including disaster areas.

Caption: Boss, a Boston Terrier, uses his keen sense of smell to help search for survivors in the port city of Kamaishi following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of northern Japan.