the Civil Protection of Haute-Saône pays tribute to its search dog for missing persons

The Civil Protection of Haute-Saône has just lost one of its own. Fiji, an 11-year-old female Labrador has died. The dog was specialized in searches for missing persons, or searches in the rubble. His departure leaves a great sadness. And reveals more than ever the usefulness of these animals very close to their master, both volunteers.

It is with great sorrow that the Civil Protection of Haute-Saône mourns the disappearance of Fiji, a search and rescue Labrador dog, struck down at the age of 11 by illness.

On their facebook page, Civil Protection volunteers describe with pain and great respect the one who was their traveling companion. “Goodbye Fiji and thank you for all you have done for us”.

Fiji was first the dog of a family, that of Nathalie and Renzo Zanchetta, president of Civil Protection in the rural department of Haute-Saône.

The dog had been operational in the field since 2013. “Fiji was the team’s first dog. She had a gift for research. She taught us everything. Versatile, she was as good at tracking people as she was at searching the rubble. She’s a female dog who knew how to disobey when she was right” testifies with pride Renzo Zanchetta.

“What sticks in my memory of her is that she never gave up. During her first search, she had done a wonderful job. She was extraordinarily pugnacious” testifies Nathalie Zanchetta who had trained her dog over the training. “It takes about two years to train such a dog”. Hours and hours of exercise, with still a minimum workout per week for Fiji.

Between Fiji and his mistress Nathalie, there was a long line and a lot of love and respect.
“We forge bonds of trust between man and dog to best accomplish the mission entrusted to us. In search of people, tracking, the dog is led. He’s got the flair. The invisible things, it is the dog who sees them, we must ignore the rest” recalls Nathalie, secretary in life and one of the volunteers of the Civil Protection of Haute-Saône.

Nathalie and Fiji marched in Paris for the 50th anniversary of Civil Protection.

Fiji was decorated at the end of 2021, for all its years of good and loyal service as a search and rescue dog, with the Civil Protection “Grand Gold” medal.

Fiji and Nathalie were a pair, there was a symbiosis between them. One had the impression that there was an electric cable between the master and the dog. Fiji was an extraordinary Labrador, he was the dog of his life.

Renzo Zanchetta, President of Civil Protection of Haute-Saône

Fiji had not been on the pitch for a few months. “We wanted her to enjoy her retirement, unfortunately that was not the case”.

Fiji participated in around forty operational searches for missing persons, on judicial requisition, for the benefit of investigations by the National Police and the Gendarmerie of Haute-Saône and the Territory of Belfort. It mainly operates in urban areas. It was part of the world body of relief likely to intervene abroad on an earthquake for example.

In Franche-Comté, the female dog was called most of the time when the police canine team was not available. “I remember that she had one day found a runaway teenager, he had no choice, Fiji had accompanied her home” remembers Enzo Zanchetta amused.

The searches carried out by these specialized dogs do not always make it possible to find the victims or missing persons. “It can be frustrating, sometimes the dog stops in front of the bus stop where the person got on…or at the edge of the water. Even if you don’t always get to the victim, most of the time it allows investigators to have directions” adds the owner from Fiji.

After Fiji’s disappearance, Popsy, a 3-year-old Labrador dog, takes over. The two dogs had been living together for several months. “We will look for these dogs in the farms when they are three months old. We begin to train them through play. This is the training method. The dog then wants to please his master” explains Renzo Zanchetta.

These search dogs are a rare skill within the branches of the Civil Protection. Nathalie continues the adventure with a female Labrador. Labrador or Malinois, these tracking dogs are also present in the canine brigades of the gendarmerie or the police. Popsy will follow in the footsteps of its eldest, Fiji, with the departments of Haute-Saône and the Territoire de Belfort as its areas of intervention.

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