Rescue dog Bingjie, now 11 years old, is known as a hero who helped save 13 lives from the rubble of a fatal earthquake that hit Wenchuan county of Sichuan Province 10 years ago.[Special coverage]
"Eleven years old in dog age is equivalent to over 70 in humans. But he is still on service," said his trainer Ouyang Honghong while stroking the black-and-white English Springer Spaniel.
Rescuers from all over the world flocked to the southwestern region after the disaster on May 12, 2008, which claimed tens of thousands of lives. Bingjie was among six dogs and over 100 fire fighters dispatched to Wenchuan by east China's Jiangsu Province.
It was the first time for Ouyang, then 24, and one-year-old Bingjie to go to the scene of an earthquake.
"It was a total ruin, and I was a bit nervous hearing that there could be aftershocks," he said. "Bingjie also appeared restless and started to run around the moment he arrived at the scene."
"I hugged him to quieten him down, and I felt more at peace holding him tight," Ouyang said.
On May 14, the second day of their mission, Bingjie became a hero.
"About half an hour after we reached the ruin of Beichuan kindergarten, Bingjie suddenly struggled to free himself from his reins and started barking at a crevice like crazy," Ouyang said.
The rescuers followed Bingjie to the crevice and heard a weak child's cry for help.
"When Bingjie saw us begin the rescue, he immediately stopped barking and left to continue sniffing the rest of the ruins," Ouyang said.
Rescuers used a hydraulic ejector rod to push up the cement blocks and cleaned up the gravel piece by piece, before carefully pulling the girl out of the ruins. The six-year-old was well protected by her teacher who has covered her to keep her safe. Tragically, the teacher was found dead.
Today, the little girl named Ren Siyu is a high school student.
Bingjie discovered a total of 13 people alive in the rubble, and the rescue team from Jiangsu fire brigade rescued 39 victims.
During the 10-plus days of their mission, Ouyang and Bingjie got up at the first light of day and would not return to rest until midnight.
At the beginning, Bingjie was supposed to sleep inside a flight case outside Ouyang's tent. However, the dog had difficulty falling asleep and continued barking on the first night, so Ouyang took Bingjie inside and cuddled him while sleeping every night.
The heavy workload took a toll on Bingjie's health. His ability to smell and cardio-pulmonary function were damaged, and his hind legs was injured after falling over while climbing up a slope.
"But he is a good boy," Ouyang said. During the past 10 years, Bingjie has joined around 50 rescue actions in various natural disasters.
"He has a passion for work," Ouyang said. "Everytime we begin our training, he is energetic and wags his tail in a thrill."
Chinese rescue dogs usually undergo a series of training, learning to obey orders, search for victims and climb over barriers.
"I would train him to get to know my smell first and then I hide myself inside a box and let him look for me," he said. "Then the dog would be asked to learn to search for different people hidden in boxes, and this is a major way to train them to be good rescuers."
"Everyday we train the dogs four times, and a dog can perform a task after six months of intensive training," Ouyang said.
The rescue dogs usually have a sense of smell that is almost a million times sharper than human beings, and their hearing is dozens of times stronger.
Usually the rescue dogs are of specific species, including the German Sheperd, Belgian Malinois and English Springer Spaniel. The English Springer Spaniel is usually agile and small, so able to squeeze into small spaces for searching.
Ouyang spends about a dozen hours a day with Bingjie: "He knows me so well that when I am about to throw a ball, he can predict the direction I will throw it in. He can be mischivous sometimes, holding the ball in his mouth refusing to return it to me."
Last year, Ouyang adopted another young rescue dog, Xiaowei. "Bingjie is envious of the new friend and nuzzles me when I fondle Xiaowei," Ouyang said.
According to Ouyang, the dogs usually serve for eight to 10 years. The other five dogs at the rescue in Wenchuan have all died. Though Bingjie is still on service, due to his age he seldom joins training.
"We just offer him a good living condition to let him enjoy his later years," Ouyang said.