Northwest of the Bosnian capital city of Sarajevo, tucked away in a small residential neighborhood, several small buildings house the employees of the Global Traning Center of the Norwegian People’s Aid. When you first meet these workers, you immediately notice how loud they actually are. In fact, they are incessantly loud. In the dead of night, you can hear them all the way from the entrance of the mile long road that leads to the NGO’s offices. However, their neighbors don’t mind the noise for two reasons. First, they are national heroes. Second, they’re dogs.
The Bosnian offices of the Norwegian People’s Aid houses their mine detecting dogs. These dogs are all a breed known as Malinois or Belgian sheep dogs. This breed of dog was chosen as a candidate for mine detecting dogs because the breed is easy to work with, easy to train, adaptable to varying environments, and fiercely intelligent. The dogs are trained from their birth until eighteen months. Then, they are put into service detecting land mines for removal all around the world. They usually operate for seven years before retiring to life a leisure with an adopted owner.
The land mine clearing agency of the NPA was established in 1992. Since that time, these “hero dogs” working with their human partner, have cleared almost six millions square miles without a single dog or human life lost. The dogs and the NPA’s process of clearing land mines can be seen in this video from the Norwegian People’s Aid website (http://www.npa-gtc.org/) as well as the video below.
I recently had the opportunity to visit the training center as a volunteer. The NPA was asking for volunteers to come visit and play with several newborn puppies to begin the process of human socialization. I know, I know, it seems like so much work. Begrudgingly, I volunteered. I found the GTC to be an extremely well ordered organization with excellent facilities and care for their dogs. They showed us the training fields—large fields where the dogs would learn to sniff out dummy mines as well as later passing tests finding live buried ones—and the kennels where the dogs lived before they went into the fields. But, the best part was playing with the puppies (see picture below).
These dogs truly are heroes helping to clean up war ravaged landscapes around the world and preventing the needless civilian deaths due to land mines (a world hazard that kills or maims 20,000 to 25,000 people every year). They have worked in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Jordan. Checkout the NPA website for more information.