Dog which failed police academy becomes star of Taiwan earthquake rescue

Roger takes part in a search operation following the powerful Taiwan earthquake.
Roger takes part in a search operation following the powerful Taiwan earthquake. Photo credit: Kaohsiung Fire Department

A labrador retriever who failed to become a drug sniffing dog because he was overly friendly and playful has won hearts across Taiwan for his detection work in the aftermath of last week’s 7.4-magnitidue earthquake.

Rescue dogs play a crucial role in helping to locate both stranded people and bodies, and teams of capable canines were quickly deployed by Taiwanese authorities after last Wednesday’s deadly tremor.

The quake that hit the island's rugged eastern coast, Taiwan's strongest in 25 years, triggered deadly landslides in a scenic national park and caused several buildings to partially collapse.

Roger, 8, was among the dogs put to work, helping to locate the body of one of the 13 people killed in the quake, according to authorities and local media.

He and his handlers ventured into the Shakadang Trail of the heavily damaged Taroko National Park and found the body of a missing 21-year-old woman, according to Taiwan's official Central News Agency (CNA).

While other dogs also played similar roles and were paraded for the media, Roger captured the island’s imagination - partly because of his backstory of an initial career failure.

Roger was born into a training centre for drug-sniffing dogs. But his love for fun, food and people got the better of him, distracting his ability to pay attention and react to his trainers' commands, CNA reported.

As a result, Roger failed to become a drug detective.

But his ebullient personality and intelligence made him a much better candidate to be a rescue dog, which was the career that was then chosen for him.

Roger, seen here as a puppy, cuddles with his toys.
Roger, seen here as a puppy, cuddles with his toys. Photo credit: Kaohsiung Fire Department

That excitedness was on full display during a media interview with his handler when Roger, tail wagging, lunged at a reporter's microphone.

Chen Chih-san, captain of the rescue dog unit of the Kaohsiung Fire Department, told reporters that Roger was transferred to the rescue training school when he was 1 year old.

"I'm not saying he was not good or that he didn't get along with others. But the requirement for narcotic detection dogs is that they can't be too restless and independent," Chen said.

Roger plays with his toy on the lawn.
Roger plays with his toy on the lawn. Photo credit: Kaohsiung Fire Department

"But (these attributes) are what we want in rescue dogs."

The dogs have provided some much needed relief for Taiwan's social media in the aftermath of the quake.

"Keep it up, heroes and little heroes," one person wrote. Another said: "Roger is the pride of Taiwan."

Roger is now something of an earthquake veteran. CNA said he had taken part in seven operations during his career, including a debut mission in the aftermath of a deadly 6.4-magnitude quake that hit the same region in 2018.

According to the Kaohsiung City Government, Roger was certified by the International Rescue Dog Organization in 2022, an accolade last achieved by a Taiwanese rescue dog in 2019.

But retirement is looming for Roger, with the Kaohsiung Fire Department sending rescue dogs to a suitable home once they reach age 9, CNA said, citing Chen.