The search is on for more dogs - and their humans - to join Whanganui's Urban Search and Rescue group.
Urban Search and Rescue (Usar) dog handler Lois Blackmore said she, along with fellow handlers, took their search dogs out every Sunday morning to train, to make sure they were ready to go "at the drop of a hat".
"It's such a humbling job, and knowing that you're there to save lives means it's really important," Blackmore said.
"Our personal kits are packed and ready to go in Palmerston North, and our dogs' kits are packed here in Whanganui.
"We've got to be ready to go if we get the call from our national trainer in Christchurch, who would have received an alert from the fire service."
Usar search dogs help to locate people trapped following the collapse of structures, in the event of earthquakes, tornadoes, landslides, and other disasters, Blackmore said.
"When we train, we try to make it as realistic as possible, and it can be quite scary sometimes."
Blackmore said there were two operational dogs, Bo and Hurley, in Whanganui, with another, border collie cross Jax, in training.
"He does my head in sometimes, but he's turning out to be a very good little search dog.
"We always try to have some dogs in training to make sure they're ready to go when the older ones retire."
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Blackmore said she joined Whanganui Civil Defence Rescue in 1984 and became involved in training search and rescue dogs after taking part in an exercise in the former Longburn Meatworks in Palmerston North.
"It was pitch black, and I saw this little light bobbing in the darkness and a dog barking.
"I asked someone what it was and they said it was a search dog.
"That was the moment I wanted to be a part of it."
Blackmore said the Whanganui Search and Rescue Dog Association was looking for new team members, and that medium- to large-sized dogs were ideal for search and rescue training.
"Usually they are working-type breeds, like border collies, cattle dogs, and huntaways and, to begin training, they should be between 8 and 16 months old."
All potential handlers were required to go through a rescue course, first aid course and a police check before getting a dog, as well as going through the process of being a "subject" during exercises, Blackmore said.
"Subjects need to be able to interact with the dogs in a verbal way and be fun and playful with them when the dogs find them during an exercise."
The support of local businesses around town had been "incredible", Blackmore said.
"They've allowed us to use their yards to train in different parts of town, and I'm really grateful for their support."
For more information on the USAR Dog Association, visit www.usardogs.org.nz