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Mexican rescue dog died of exposure, not collapse, in Turkey

Despite reports that the dog died in a collapse of rubble, its handler confirmed the cause of death was exposure to harsh conditions after long periods of travel and work.

MEXICO CITY (CN) — Extreme cold and other harsh conditions caused the death of a Mexican army search and rescue dog in Turkey on Sunday, according to the soldier in charge of handling him.

“There were several factors, above all the travel and the weather, that caused this tragedy,” said Cpl. Carlos Villeda in an interview with the news outlet Telediario Monday night. 

The news came after a representative of the Mexican Red Cross, which is conducting rescue efforts alongside the military, told Courthouse News that the dog, Proteo, died from a collapse of rubble after entering a downed structure to seek survivors. 

“It was not due to a collapse,” Villeda continued in conversation with Telediario. “It was because of the situation of the weather and the dog’s age.”

Rescue efforts following the magnitude 7.8 earthquake that rocked parts of Turkey and Syria this month have been made more challenging by below-freezing temperatures and precipitation. 

Proteo was a German shepherd who was set to turn 10 years old this year. He had been training and working on rescue efforts since he was four months old, and had helped with disasters in Mexico, Haiti and Ecuador before being sent to Turkey.

“He was too old to be carrying out rescue efforts,” said animal rights activist Lucía Hernández, whose investigations into the budgets for animals in the government’s care led her to call out the military for recent cuts. “It’s a very tough job for the dogs." 

Just days before Proteo’s death, she denounced the navy for cutting its budget for rescue dogs by more than 60% since 2018. She told Courthouse News on Tuesday that the animals budget for the army also includes money for livestock such as horses, as well as cattle and hens for feeding soldiers, so she was unable to determine exactly how much that branch of the armed forces is or is not spending on rescue dogs. 

The cuts to the navy dogs’ budget, however, have resulted in a diet reduced in both quality and quantity, Hernández said. 

The army did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Isaac Oxenhaut, national relief coordinator for the Mexican Red Cross, said the rescue dogs Mexico sent to Turkey were being given up to three blankets during resting periods in an attempt to keep them warm. 

Extra blankets, however, are not enough to keep the animals safe, according to Hernández. 

“There is equipment to protect the dogs in all kinds of circumstances,” she said, adding that the animals require specialized shelters designed for freezing temperatures, as well as portable heaters to keep them warm. 

They also require shorter shifts on the job and more time to rest, she said. 

The Mexican Red Cross did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

Mexican rescue workers have so far found four survivors, recovered 29 dead, carried out 72 medical consultations, removed 41 cubic meters of rubble and aided in the delivery of over three metric tons of food and other provisions, according to National Security Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval. 

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