The Irrawaddy

Sniffer Dog Welfare Group Founded in Memory of ‘Sergeant Michael’

People are seen taking pictures with Michael at a ceremony commemorating Union Day in Rangoon’s Mahabandoola Park in February. (Photo: Tin Htet Paing / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — A charity group for the welfare of Burma’s sniffer dogs will be established following the death of Rangoon’s five-year-old German Shepherd bomb squad member during the Thingyan water festival.

Sergeant Michael died of gastrointestinal problems on April 15. His handler family said the cause of his death was possibly intense fatigue, brought on after carrying out continuous missions as the only sniffer dog on duty in the country’s biggest city.

Filmmaker Ma Kyi Phyu Shin said she founded the “For Brave Dog” welfare group along with other dog lovers. It will be launched officially on May 15, on the one-month anniversary of Michael’s death. The group will use Michael’s picture as its logo, she added.

The government had granted a monthly stipend of 40,000 kyats (just under US$30) for Sergeant Michael’s care to his handler family. Ma Kyi Phyu Shin emphasized that trained sniffer dogs need thorough care and that the government allowance for their maintenance is not sufficient in even covering the cost of their food.

“[Taking lessons from Michael’s death], the group’s purpose is to help the welfare of existing and future sniffer dogs like Michael, which are valuable to the country and serve the public,” she told The Irrawaddy.

The welfare group plans to donate 30,000 kyats monthly for every sniffer dog that will be on duty after finishing training at the Central Military Dog Training Academy (Mingalardon), Ma Kyi Phyu Shin explained. In addition to monetary donations, the group will provide necessary medical care for the on-duty sniffer dogs with the assistance of veterinarians across the country, she added.

“These dogs might not know that they are serving a duty to the country while performing exactly what their handlers ask them to do.”

“Such obedience is very beneficial for the country,” she told The Irrawaddy, referring to Sergeant Michael’s help in finding four explosive devices in Rangoon last year.

Michael carried out his duties at nearly 600 important events in Rangoon and Naypyidaw during his four-year service with the squad, including working during the 2014 visit of former US President Barack Obama to Burma, as well as the 2013 Southeast Asian Games, state-level events, presidential visits, football matches, and motion picture academy awards ceremonies, according to his handler Lance Corporal Aung Phite.

Rangoon regional government’s police authorities have bought two yellow Labrador Retrievers that will be assigned as the city’s sniffer dogs after training at the Mingalardon academy for six months starting in August.

There are four sniffer dogs on duty with bomb squad teams in Burma, assigned separately in the capital Napyidaw, as well as in Rangoon and Mandalay. Rambo, a one-and-a-half year old black Labrador, will fill in for Michael until the police have more trained dogs to take on the role.