Next time you take an awesome vacation to Italy and take a day to head to the coast and lay on the beach, keep an eye out for the lifeguards. No, they don’t look have perfect tans or run slowly in red swimsuits. Rather, they may be wearing a lifevest and have lots of fur… lots.
Italy has been using dogs as part of their coast guard team for several years but only recently has it gained some notice due to their expanding number of lifedogs. Currently, there are 300 lifedogs that are trained to jump into the water and rescue someone who is unable to swim back to safety on their own. Dogs, unlike people, can dive into the water easily from helicopters and speed boats and reach the person in trouble. The dogs have harnesses for people to grab onto or may have a buoy or a raft that they are towing for the swimmer to grab onto till a speed boat or helicopter can within reach to help the person out of the water.
According to the Italian Coast Guard, about 3,000 people are rescued each year and the lifedogs are credited with saving many of these lives. The lifedogs are trained for 3 years at the Italian School of Canine Lifeguards otherwise known as Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio, with several locations around the country and will train any breed as long as it weighs over 60 lbs. and shows a strong retrieving instinct. So far, Newfoundlands and Golden Retrievers seem to be the top students due to their natural desire to swim and retrieve. For these dogs, rescuing people is a job but it is also play. It allows them to use their instincts to want to seek and please their owner, or in this case, their human counterparts.
So if you’re ever on a beach off the coast of Italy, don’t be surprised if you see a large dog with a red vest running across the sands, it’s just your lifeguard.
Photo courtesy of Scuola Italiana Cani Salvataggio