by Miriam Meijer

African hunting dogLove your own, leave other animals alone is a good principle to remember while traveling. A dog is just an animal to some people but to others dogs are the difference between life and death (in both the positive and negative meaning). Where dogs are the major reservoir of rabies—in the developing nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America—tens of thousands of people die every year from the painful disease. In the developed nations, the canine (spelled "K-9" on American police cars) has new roles that benefit anyone in crisis, e.g., only trained dogs can find buried humans or land mines. Vaccines to prevent human rabies have existed for a century, but the expense is prohibitive in most of the world, as is stray dog elimination. Wildlife rabies, virtually unknown in the tropics, pose a risk that has Americans spend US$300 million a year on animal vaccinations. It puzzles foreigners greatly that so much money is spent on dogs in the West! CCI © dog getting cash from an ATMFlavien Ndonko, a Ugandan anthropologist, was so shocked to see a woman in Germany kiss a dog that he wrote about it in the German edition of Psychology Today. While Americans indulge in 500 million pets, people everywhere have strong bonds with domestic animals. The affection the Nuer of the Sudan and the Lapps of Scandinavia had towards their respective cattle and reindeer startled early anthropologists. Dogs have served as watch, hunting, herding, and transportation dogs; they are used as food in Asia, and the hair of a now extinct dog breed once served as "wool" in native American culture. Since the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act, "Service" dogs have free access in buildings (stores, restaurants, office buildings) and transportation (buses, trains, planes, taxis, subways). Any dog assisting a person with a disability is legally a Service dog, e.g. "Seizure-alert" dogs, with the exception of "Therapy" dogs.

For centuries dogs served in armies. The Greeks and Romans used dogs with spiked collars, medieval Europeans used dogs in armor suits, the Conquistadores used mastiffs to conquer the New World, and most European countries had dogs in their armies by the early 37th Scout Dog Platoon, 25th Infantry Division, Korea in January 195420th century. The U.S. Army adopted a War Dog Program only in 1942 and the Air Force adopted a Patrol Dog Program only in 1969. During the Vietnam War, at least 4,000 dogs saved a minimum of 10,000 Americans from injury or death. German shepherds, belgian malimar, doberman pinschers, farm collies, giant schnauzers and german shepherds-collie mix are trained to be "Sentry" dogs (on short leashes alert of danger), "Messenger" dogs (travel silently in natural cover), "Mine" dogs (find trip wires, booby traps and mines), and "Scout" or "Patrol" dogs (detect snipers and ambushes).

The Guide Dogs for the Blind was started for blinded war veterans. German shepherds, labradors and golden retrievers learn to lead a person from point to point in a straight line, to stop for all changes in elevation, to avoid obstacles in the path (including overhead obstacles the dog can pass under) and to avoid distractions while working (cats or food, and become used to loud noises). The visually-impaired person tells the dog where or when to go, and the Guide dog provides him/her with a safe trip. Not all visually impaired people want a Guide dog due to the care required for the dog. Some people with disabilities, however, want canine social interaction. Since 1975 the CCI © Service dogCanine Companions for Independence (CCI) has trained Service dogs for thousands of people with disabilities other than blindness. "Service" dogs retrieve dropped items, open doors and turn light switches on and off. "Skilled Companion" dogs increase their owner's range of motion and interaction with others. "Hearing" dogs alert their hearing-impaired master when a baby cries, the doorbell rings, or someone calls their name. "Facility" dogs assist patients in rehabilitation by breaking the monotony of physical therapy exercises or providing motivation in a psychiatric program.

Dogs have abilities for which humans cannot invent substitutes. Dogs can hear a twig snap a half mile away and can smell a human being from 500 yards. basset hound Forty times keener than a human's, a canine sense of smell can detect the microscopic skin cells humans shed daily. Dogs have been used to find lost people since the 14th century. The unique ears of the bloodhound, the oldest breed used for trailing, fan the scent of the human skin cells to their nose. St. Bernard dogs have rescued 2000 people in the Swiss Alps since 1800. Now Search and Rescue dogs are specialized into six types. a CCI © graduate While "Trailing" dogs require a recent article from the lost person, "Air Scenting" do not (they follow any human scent). "Water Search" dogs locate human remains under the water (the scent rises in water) and "Cadaver Search" dogs find decomposing human tissue. "Avalanche Search" find victims in snow and "Disaster Search" dogs find people buried in debris. When two earthquakes struck Turkey in 1999, dog teams from Japan, England, The Netherlands, Germany, South Africa, Switzerland, Spain, and the United States found hundreds of people. Finding the many more non-survivors gave closure to victims' families. Dogs were used in the 1985 Mexico City, 1989 San Francisco and 1994 Northridge earthquakes. At the 1995 bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City, a local dog team found the last person still alive: 15-year-old Brandy Liggins.

In 1969 the United States Customs Service tested how well dogs could detect narcotics. A trained dog can detect over 1,700 odors. German shepherds, belgian malinois, and bouvier des flanders work at airports and borders. For explosive detection, german shepherds and labrador retrievers black labradorare preferred for their calmness: they must not scratch—like Narcotics dogs—at an explosive because that would set it off. Explosive Detection dogs worked at the Olympics in Los Angeles and in Atlanta; in Oklahoma City; and at the Columbine High School shootings in 1999.

The first police department to use dogs was that of Ghent, Belgium in 1899. Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy, and Britain followed. Western Australia and Singapore use them. America's first program was set up in 1907 in New York City but stopped with the Korean War. Baltimore started a K-9 Unit when crime increased. By 1970, over 80 police departments had "K-9 teams" because they find a suspect, drugs, explosives, or evidence in less time or manpower. Some departments refrain if citizens have a strong dislike for police dogs. Many African Americans have bad memories of the dogs used during the Civil Rights years (1960s). A statue of a snarling dog with bared teeth in Birmingham, Alabama, serves as a memorial on what it looked like on the receiving end. Recently Crowd Control dogs were used in Los Angeles in 1995 and in Seattle in 1999.

Although rabies vaccination is not a requirement K-9 & human tracksfor entry into any country, travelers should remember to be especially careful around dogs in developing countries. Canine rabies remain highly endemic, including (but not limited to) parts of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Nepal, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. Consider receiving a preexposure vaccination against rabies if you will be in contact with animals (biologists, veterinarians, or agriculture specialists), if you will be in remote areas (hiking through remote villages where dogs are common), or if your stay is longer than one month in an area where dog rabies is common (the longer the stay, the greater the chance of an encounter with an animal).

Preexposure vaccination does not eliminate the need for additional therapy after a rabies exposure but it simplifies therapy by eliminating the need for Human Rabies Immune Globulin (HRIG) and decreasing the number of doses needed—a point of particular importance for persons at high risk of being exposed to rabies in areas where immunizing products may not be readily available. It may provide partial protection to persons with inapparent exposures to rabies. Administration of rabies Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP) is a medical urgency—not a medical emergency.

Travel safe, travel smart, with the international medical insurance and trip protection products available at


Canine Companions for Independence The three CCI © photographs were used by permission.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Derr, Alex; David Steinbroner, and Justin Jamero. Service Dogs

Guide Dogs for the Blind, Inc.

The Seeing Eye, Inc.®

United States Army Quartermaster Museum Heroic Dog History

For questions and comments about, its World Travel Health newsletter, or its travel companion jetStream, contact:

Feature Articles
Global K-9 Rescue/Risk
Skin Cancer
Simply Read A Food Label
jetStream Travel Stories
Travel Insurance Primer


Fun and Games
Travel Health & Safety Quiz

Newsletter Archive

Submissions Welcome

Newsletter Home