MEXICO CITY (CN) — Mexicans and Turks alike mourned the death of a search and rescue dog sent to Turkey to aid with recovery efforts in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake that rocked the region this month.
Proteo, a German shepherd, was one of 10 search and rescue dogs sent with soldiers of Mexico’s Secretariat of National Defense (Sedena) last week to sniff out survivors beneath the rubble.
“The members of the Mexican army and air force profoundly regret the loss of our great team member, the dog Proteo,” Sedena said in a statement posted to its social media accounts Sunday.
“You completed your mission as a member of the Mexican delegation in the search and rescue of our brothers in Turkey. Thank you for your heroic effort!”
Sedena declined requests for additional comments, but included a video of a statement from a soldier who worked with Proteo on its TikTok account Sunday.
“I want to tell you that I am proud of you, because you were always a strong dog, a hardworking dog that never gave up,” said a soldier with the last name Villeda on his uniform. “Now, all that’s left for me is to thank you for having brought me. Unfortunately, you will not get there with me. I’ll always remember you. I hope that all of Mexico will never forget you. We’ll see each other again someday.”
National Security Secretary Luis Cresencio Sandoval made a terse announcement of Proteo’s death during the morning press conference of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador Monday, saying that Proteo “passed away … while working … in recent days.”
He did not give details of Proteo’s cause of death, but Isaac Oxenhaut, national relief coordinator for the Mexican Red Cross, which sent rescue workers and dogs with the military, told Courthouse News that Proteo died in a collapse of rubble while in service.
“He went in among the concrete slabs, and unfortunately died,” Oxenhaut said, confirming that the cause of death was a collapse.
But dangerous structural conditions are not the only risks the canines face in the rescue efforts. Temperatures well below freezing also present a challenge.
“The weather also doesn’t favor the animals,” he said, adding that the dogs’ handlers are giving them ample rest and using up to three blankets per dog to keep them warm when not working.
Proteo received an outpouring of praise on social media from both Mexicans and Turks who thanked him for his work and lamented his death.
An image of the dog amid the rubble of the tragedy by Turkish graphic designer Burak Türker went viral in Mexico on Monday after he posted it to his Instagram account.
Wearing a collar sporting a Mexican flag, Proteo looks off to the right of the frame while a rescue worker behind him faces a building surrounded by the debris of collapsed structures. Text above the dog’s head reads: “Thank you Proteo.” The O in his name is a red circle featuring the star and crescent of the Turkish flag.
While similar messages of mourning and gratitude abounded on social media in Mexico on Sunday and Monday, also among them were calls for Sedena to clarify the details of Proteo’s death.
Just days before he died, Lucía Hernández, coordinator of the educational website Amo La Ciencia (I Love Science) called out Mexico’s navy for recent cuts to its food budget for rescue dogs.
Citing public records, Hernández claimed that the navy has cut that budget by over 60% since 2018, the year before President Andrés Manuel López Obrador introduced his Federal Republican Austerity Law. The law aims to “combat social inequality, corruption, avarice and the waste of national goods and resources, administrating resources with efficiency, effectiveness, economy, transparency and honesty in order to satisfy the objectives for which they are intended.”
The cuts have led to a reduction of both quantity and quality of the food that military rescue dogs are given, Hernández said. The 233 rescue and combat dogs in the military’s care are no longer being fed the high-performance food they were previously given, but rather one that is meant for pets.
“It covers the necessities of a pet, but not for a dog that is going to be in action for 24 hours,” she said in an interview with El Financiero on Friday.
So far, Mexican rescue workers have found four people alive, recovered 29 dead, carried out 72 medical consultations, removed 41 cubic meters of rubble and aided in the delivery of three metric tons of food and other provisions, according to Sandoval’s presentation Monday.
The latest death count following the magnitude 7.8 quake in Turkey and Syria is over 37,000, according to news reports.
Earthquake rescue dogs are close to Mexicans’ hearts after a Labrador retriever named Frida helped with recovery efforts in the aftermath of the temblor that rocked central Mexico on Sept. 19, 2017. She recovered 43 bodies and found dozens of survivors in Mexico, Haiti and Ecuador during her career.
Known for her protective goggles and blue booties, Frida died in November 2022 of natural causes, according to the navy.
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