In my Dreams, This is for Real: United Nations Gone to the Dogs

Posted: April 18, 2011 in United Nations
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

From May 2010:

Australian Broadcasting Company: United Nations gone to the dogs

Almost 50 dachshund dogs are taking centre stage in an unconventional take on the United Nations (UN) as part of this year’s Next Wave Arts festival in Melbourne.

Bennett Miller’s sculpture and animal performance piece involves 47 sausage dogs conducting an hour-long meeting of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.

In a chaotic affair, the members of the dachshund UN bark, sniff and sleep their way through the meeting, which Mr Miller says attempts to reflect both the chaotic and utopian elements of the United Nations.

“I think the UN does a lot of amazing things but it is an inherently difficult idea to pull off. It is hard for all these countries to give up their own sovereign interests to a broader global interest,” he said.

“I’m trying to make an accurate imitation of what I see in the UN, or more so what I see is the reputation of the UN. So I had to have elements that were positive and elements that were negative.”

He hopes people who view the work ultimately see it as a celebration of both the UN and the sausage dog.

“My sculpture is dysfunctional and that is also true of the UN but it is also quite a beautiful scene when you look at all the dogs. I hope that is what people take away from it but I can’t control it completely,” he said.

The dachshund dog was selected because Mr Miller believes their qualities reflect the human condition.

“They have a lot of racial diversity within the breed which made them quite comparable to humanity,” he said.

“They are also very proud looking animals which resemble a statesman and plus they make a lot of people laugh.”

The work has been criticised as a form of animal cruelty but Miller says the performance is set up so that the dogs are protected from any harm.

While 47 dogs appear on stage, there are numerous substitute dogs behind the scenes which are switched in if a dog shows any signs of distress.

All of the dogs’ owners are also on hand, hidden below the installation, to make sure their pets are happy to continue in the performance.

Mr Miller says the work attempts to provoke people to consider animal rights.

“There was an animal rights issue in making the work. That was part of what I found interesting and one of things you can take from the work if you examine it more closely,” he said.

“What I mean is the participants don’t have rights about their decision to be involved in the sculptures. It’s contingent upon the owners.”

The final meeting of the dog UN is on this Saturday afternoon at the Melbourne Museum from 2:00 pm (local time).

Youtube Video 1
Youtube Video 2
Youtube Video 3
Vimeo Video

And now… some real U.N. dogs:

Working Dogs of the United Nations Event Sheet

On 7 April 2011, UNPA will issue a new event sheet commemorating the “Working Dogs of the United Nations”. The sheet features 10 stamps with the United Nations emblem. In the tabs are photos of United Nations Security Dogs and their handlers in the New York, Geneva and Vienna canine units.

The UN canine units are part of the United Nations Security and Safety Services. They were established at UN Headquarters in New York in May 2004 and at UN Headquarters in Geneva in 2008. The canine unit in Vienna is fully operational since 21 March 2011.

United Nations canine dogs come from all over the world with distinct personalities and talents. In New York the canine unit uses Labradors, in Geneva a German Shepherd and in Vienna the dog of choice is the Belgian Malinois. Everyday, they come to work with their handlers to keep safe all the staffers, delegates and visitors on the UN premises. Before joining the unit, each handler has to go through a series of interviews conducted by the UN Security and Safety Services and the local state police. Once selected, they attend rigorous training courses. The handlers and their four-legged partners have to pass through increasingly difficult training scenarios, including obedience responses, building searches, land navigation and basic canine first aid, before the handlers receive certification.

From 1957:

Dogs Sitting in Front of United Nations:

Original caption: Wearing placards that tell the world of their sentiments, these dogs are picketing the United Nations to let the Russian delegation know how they feel about one of their brethren being made a space “guinea pig.” At the moment a dog is orbiting the globe in Russia’s Sputnik, at an altitude of 1,056 miles and, unlike the dogs show here, has no comforting fireplug, (left). Soviet scientists hint they may be able to bring the space dog back to the earth.

(See photo at link)

From the United Nations Cyberschoolbus website:

Questions from a number of participating schools went out to deminers in Afghanistan via the Schools Demining Schools project. The Programme Manager of the United Nations Mine Action Programme in Afghanistan, Ian Bullpitt, gathered answers to those questions from members of demining organizations that work closely with the United Nations.

Are you scared when you do your job?

NAJIB: No, because we came across mines several times and we understood that if you are careful during mine clearance then you are exposed to very little danger. On the other hand, we believe in destiny written by God.

ABDUL: I am not scared when I am doing my job. We are working according to the strict safety procedures we learned in the courses. We are all like fully confident soldiers who are never scared of their enemy.

IAN: Most of the other deminers interviewed said they were not scared.

Do you often use dogs?

GHULAM: No, HALO [the demining organization Ghulam works for] does not have any Mine Dog Clearance. I personally believe that dogs are not very reliable and who can guarantee that a dog will not have a bad day and miss mines.

AJAB: Yes, we often use the dogs. MDC has experienced dog handlers with dogs and the dogs are working faster than manual teams. Once each area is double-checked by dogs, I just inspect those parts indicated by the dogs.

ZARWALI: Yes, we have dogs who sniff the ground to locate any explosive device. We use two dogs to check each piece of ground we go over. When a dog indicates a suspicious spot, we check that spot with our mine detectors.

IAN: The Mine Action Programme for Afghanistan has one of the largest and most successful mine dog programmes in the world. The Afghan Mine Dog Centre has almost 150 dogs who are specially trained to sniff for the explosives in mines. Each dog has to pass very strict tests before it is allowed out to work in the minefields. We use two dogs to check every square inch of ground – this ensures that the area is checked to accpeptable standards. […]

Do you risk your life every day?

NAJIB: Well, in terms of mine clearance yes, but the system of very tight discipline that we have in HALO along with the visors and jackets and the mine detecting equipment and other safety procedures give us enough protection.

MOHD: Yes, it is a risky job where the first mistake could be the last mistake.

What do you think about when you are demining?

GHULAM: I think about safely finishing off my working day and safely going home with no accident.

ZARWALI: I think that I must use the prodder in the safest way to avoid a mine incident. I do think that if a mine blows up, it will cause injuries to my eyes, hands and chest.

RAQIB: I think if this mine blows up, then I will become disabled. But I am satisfied as I serve my people.

(more at link)

Modern Dog magazine:

Mine Detection Dogs
Making the world safer, one square metre at a time

If his dog had been a bit more courageous, Stefan Karrman may have found himself working in Sweden doing K-9 search and rescue. As fate would have it, during training, his German Shepherd suddenly became afraid of everything, leaving Karrman to pursue a decidedly more global calling. “I was wondering what I should do now,” Karrman says. There was never any doubt in his mind that he should be working with dogs in some capacity. “The Swedish Army—the mine action centre—was asking for dog handlers, so I applied and went for a two-day information session. They said: ‘If you’re still interested, give us a sign and choose one of five dates to go to Stockholm to do a test.’ They were looking for people who were calm and didn’t get stressed easily.”

After being accepted as a dog handler for mine detection dogs (MDDs), Karrman spent eight weeks in training and was then assigned a dog, a three-year-old German Shepherd named Jackie. “I took the dog home and trained a lot,” he says. “I spent more time with her than with my wife.”

Karrman and Jackie did a six-month tour in Bosnia and three months in Lebanon, returning to Sweden between assignments. Then, an opportunity arose for a dog supervisor in the Congo. Karrman landed the job without Jackie, left her and his wife, and went to supervise eight dogs and handlers for six months. “It was a tough time because of the problems with water out in the bush,” he says of the difficulties the dogs encountered. “It was also tough for the people.”

At the end of the six months, he had to make a decision: stay in the Congo or take a post in Sudan as a registered MDD quality assurance officer with the United Nations Mine Action Service, an agency created in 1997 to serve as a focal point for global mine action work.

Karrman chose Sudan and has never looked back. He’s been there continuously since October, 2008, with very occasional short trips home to see his wife.

“It’s amazing the work we do with dogs here that we can’t do in Sweden,” he says, adding, “There are no mines in Sweden.” Karrman says the dogs, mostly German Shepherds and Malinois, with one particularly determined Australian Shepherd, love the work.

“You can see how happy they are when they’re working and how frustrated they get if they don’t get out to work,” he says of the 18 dogs in his program. “The German Shepherds are easy to train and have a good nose for this work. The Malinois we compare to a working machine as they never stop; you have to stop them. It’s crazy; they like it so much they never stop. It’s funny to see the one Australian Shepherd. It’s really unusual because if you take 20 to 30 Australian Shepherds and test them for this work, maybe you find only one or two you can use.”

Typically, mine detection dogs become operational at about 18 months to two years of age. Puppies are watched during play with balls and if they love to push the balls around with their noses, they are then tested in different environments. Successful dogs also need a strong search drive, and must not be afraid of noise or new environments. Within three months, most potential MDDs are identified and begin training.

Explosives have a definite odour that trained dogs can detect. In fact, says Karrman, the dogs are so aware of the scent of explosives, they can detect it even when it is masked in other smells, hidden in liquid, or covered with gasoline. “They can find it there. People can hide it anywhere and the dogs will find it; it’s really marvelous,” he explains.

In Sudan, the day starts early. The dogs generally work from 6 a.m. until 11 a.m., when they must stop due to the excessive heat. Dogs work six days a week, and when not working, can go for walks, do some obedience or remedial training, or even play in their sheltered kennels. Special, high-quality food is flown in from South Africa, but only for the dogs; handlers, who sleep in huts, are expected to eat local food.

Karrman says the dogs are treated better than people and says losing a dog to a landmine has never happened; they are too light to detonate an anti-tank mine, and too sensitive to the smell of an anti-personnel mine to get close enough to set it off.

Before any dog begins his daily work, he does a test box to make sure he is interested in working that day. The dog sniffs a 10 x 10 metre box containing an explosive and if he detects it, he sits, indicating to his handler that explosives are present, exactly as when the two are working in the field.

Generally, MDDs are used as an area reduction tool, working in low-threat areas. They smell the explosives before getting close enough to detonate the landmines, and sit down in safety before being removed to allow the manual de-miner to do his work. The dogs are not used in high-threat areas with many mines present because they become confused when there are odours from too many explosive items.

In addition to the dog’s incredible sense of smell, speed is a huge factor in the success of MDD programs. On average, a manual deminer can clear an area of 10 square metres a day, whereas a dog can do 1,200 to 1,500 square metres a day.

David McMahon, portfolio manager at the United Nations North America Regional Office Mine Action Cluster, says most of the dogs used for mine detection are trained in South Africa and then flown into Sudan. Each dog carries his own passport for identification purposes. After a working life of six years, the dogs are repatriated, retired, and adopted by families.

The dogs are an amazing tool used to reduce the threat of mines including anti-personnel mines, designed to be triggered by the presence of people; anti-tank mines; and unexploded ordinances, which are bombs, rockets, grenades, or shells that are still ‘live.’ Mines are often buried but can be also be found on the surface, disguised as candy, tempting children to pick them up. In 2008, landmines, improvised explosive devices, and “explosive remnants of war” were responsible for 5,197 casualties in 75 countries, including 1,266 deaths. Civilians accounted for nearly two-thirds of recorded casualties and, of those civilians, 41 percent were children who encountered mines during daily activities such as school or play.

In Sudan, 42,000 kilometres of roadways have been verified, assessed, and cleared in the past five years, which means people can return to their homes, work, fields, or schools. It also means humanitarian aid can be delivered more economically by road instead of by air. Much of that clearing has been done by dogs, either working in the field sniffing out explosives or through a lesser-known method called remote area sensing.

“With armoured vehicles, we drive down dangerous roads and use a vacuum pump to suck air through a filtration system into containment sample cylinders,” says McMahon. A GPS coordinate is attached to samples, which are then sent to South Africa. “A number of dogs check each sample and note positive or negative [for the presence of explosives]. Then we go back and demine those [positive] areas.”

The United Nations (UN) also uses mine detection dogs in Afghanistan. Despite making good progress in clearing dozens of communities, as of September, 2010, there were still hazards remaining affecting 651 square kilometers and 2,120 communities throughout the country.

Anwaruddin Tokhy works with the UN as an operations officer at the Mine Action Coordination Centre of Afghanistan, overseeing the testing of mine detection dogs. He says there are more than 200 MDDs in Afghanistan, and although they arrive trained, they cannot begin work immediately.

“We train them again, as the soil is different here. As well, it takes 15 days for the dogs to acclimatize. We assess how well the dog was trained…and then do our own internal testing after acclimatization,” says Tokhy. Dogs and handlers are matched according to training and the abilities of the handler.

“If it’s a weaker handler, he can’t control a strong dog. This is noted beforehand,” says Tokhy.

Being a MDD is not a way of life for most dogs, nor is being an MDD worker a choice for most people, but for a select few, it is a calling more than a job. Karrman says that it may just be his intense desire to work with dogs that drives him to do this type of work. But that, too, may be coming to an end.

He will soon return to Sweden after the completion of his contract. Once back home, he will work with machines. “There are not so many places you can go and work with dogs. It’s a small [industry] to work in and not easy to find work. I’d like to see my wife and then, if a job [working with dogs] pops up in the world, I would go.”


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