Last updated: July 18. 2013 6:54PM - 229 Views
Fred Pace
Heartland News Service

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ABINGDON, Va. – Man’s best friend will now be a coal miner-in-need’s best friend, as well.

This weekend, Alpha Natural Resources introduced the first dog specifically trained to perform search and rescue in both underground and surface mining operations. “Ginny” was on hand Saturday for the “Rally for Appalachian Coal” in Abingdon, Va.

“We are excited to welcome Ginny to the Alpha Natural Resources family,” said Kevin Crutchfield, chairman and CEO of Alpha Natural Resources. “She is a tremendous new asset for mine search and rescue, both for our company and the industry, and is part of our larger commitment to safety.”

Ginny is a brindle-colored Dutch Shepherd. She is trained to search for missing, trapped, injured or unresponsive humans in unstable conditions or confined areas, Alpha officials said.

“She has highly-developed scent ability and can canvass large areas in short amounts of time,” said Rick McCallister, the dog’s handler and Alpha’s Director of Continuous Improvement. “To help protect and support her when working in the field, Ginny also wears a specially designed protective vest that carries sophisticated technology, such as infrared camera and atmospheric gas detector when underground.”

McCallister said Ginny improves mine rescue.

“Alpha’s leadership was all on board with this idea,” he said. “So we found the best dog and the best trainer.”

Ginny’s formal training took more than two years and was led by Bill Dotson, a well-recognized canine behaviorist with expertise in the development of high specialized skills for search, rescue and recovery.

“We looked at mining incidents in the past and looked at how Ginny could help in those types of situations,” McCallister said.

Ginny continues to train with Alpha’s mine search and rescue teams so that they know how to best work with her and leverage her skills, McCallister added.

Joey Kennedy, who is on one of Alpha’s mine rescue teams out of Chapmanville, W.Va., said Ginny greatly enhances mine safety.

“The dog brings so much more to the table when it comes to mine search and rescue in general,” Kennedy said. “With Ginny’s skills, and all her new technologies that she carries with her, she can go ahead of human mine rescue teams and enable us to move so much faster with mine search and rescue.”

Ginny was bred at a kennel that provides some of the highest-performing dogs in existence to branches of the U.S. military, law enforcement and homeland security.

Lydia McKenna, of Abington, Va., was at the rally and wanted to pet Ginny.

“Dogs are amazing,” she said. “They have personality and skills too. It’s great what this dog can do. She is showing everyone really how intelligent and valuable dogs are to humans. No wonder they call them man’s best friend.”

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