East TN dog helps recovery efforts after Typhoon Haiyan

(WBIR-Lenoir City) Recovery efforts continue more than six months after Super Typhoon Haiyan swept through the Philippines, displacing millions and killing more than 5,000 people.

Some of those search and rescue efforts were led by an East Tennessee dog.

In February, Global Disaster Immediate Response Team (DIRT) deployed five K-9 teams to the Philippines to support the World Health Organization and United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

One of those teams included BB, a black Labrador Retriever with Savannah Springs K-9 Center in Lenoir City. She trains with her handler, Heather Wilkerson, almost every day.

"They're not a tool that can just be put on a shelf and brought out when needed. In order to keep them in peak optimum performance and maintain the reliability of their detection capabilities, they have to be trained every single day," Wilkerson said.

BB is trained in urban search and rescue. During the 30-day mission in the Philippines, it was her job to help recover human remains in Tacloban City.

According to UNDP, more than 1,000 people are still missing.

"The dog was able to experience things that most other dogs will never experience in their entire working life. It was very challenging for me as a handler. I have a lot of years of specialized training in search and rescue with dogs and it challenged me to a point where I had to actually utilize every specialized training class that I had ever taken in my career," Wilkerson said.

BB is trained to navigate through debris and hard to reach places. If she detects something, her bark will alert Wilkerson.

"There's very few in the United States. It's kind of the difference between Minor League Baseball and Major League Baseball," she said.

According to Wilkerson, there are about 240 dogs in the nation who are certified in live search and rescue.

Wilkerson is not able to reveal too many details about their mission but she did say, "I'm very proud of the work the dog did there--she made a difference."

BB has assisted in several other recovery efforts, including missions after the 2011 Joplin tornado.


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