- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2003

VIENNA, Va. (AP) — The Iams Co. is funding a nationwide study on the potential health hazards faced by dogs involved in search-and-rescue efforts, including those that took place after the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 and the September 11 attacks.

The five-year study, which includes 24 dogs and is being conducted at the Iams Pet Imaging Center in Vienna, attempts to establish whether the dogs are more at risk than other dogs for cancer.

The University of Pennsylvania and the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation are collaborating on the research.

Dogs are well suited for search-and-rescue work. They have a wealth of receptors in their nasal passages and use smell to trigger memory, similar to how humans use sight.

“When they sniff each other or sniff the ground, they’re getting all kinds of information,” said Beth Barkley, whose dog Fearghas is in the study.

Some observers say searching through debris at disaster sites could expose the dogs to asbestos, jet fuel and other potential carcinogens, but the study has found no signs of cancer in the dogs.

If researchers are able to document an increased occurrence of cancer, the findings would provide insight into the increased risk of cancer among humans in the search-and-rescue field.

Fearghas was the third dog tested during the last week of November. When the sedatives finally rendered him unconscious, technicians transferred the white shepherd onto a bed, which transported him into the center of a large, donut-shaped magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, machine.

Miss Barkley, 59, watched from another room. Fearghas is one of three search-and-rescue white shepherds she owns — one is retired and the other is in training.

Since entering the field in 1980, Miss Barkley has accompanied her dogs on numerous search missions for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management. The pair helped search through the rubble of the Pentagon to find missing persons in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks.

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