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Colombian authorities continue search for Wilson, the dog who helped rescue four children from the Amazon

Wilson always led the way. The five-year-old Belgian Malinois first guided the Colombian army to the remains of the plane. He later found a baby bottle belonging to a potential survivor, giving rescuers another clue. Then Wilson, who kept his nose glued to the terrain, disappeared into the vast jungle looking for his objective.

“A lot of hunting dogs who get obsessed with the search can get lost and have gotten lost,” Edgar Fontecha, 59, a canine handler for the Colombian army and Wilson’s trainer, told The Washington Post in an interview in Spanish.

Before going missing, Wilson sniffed out enough of a path to help Colombian soldiers find four young children who went missing last month when their plane crashed in the Amazon rainforest. All of the children, ages 13, 9, 4 and 1, were found alive on June 9, having survived 40 days in the jungle. Their mother and two others died in the crash.

But a team of more than 70 men belonging to the Colombian Special Forces hasn’t shut down the rescue operation just yet. They still hope to find their canine companion somewhere in the Caquetá and Guaviare regions in what they have called Operation Hope, or Operación Esperanza, in Spanish. Even Colombian President Gustavo Petro has commented on Wilson’s disappearance.

“What has not been found is the dog, who at one point was with [the children],” Petro said in a news conference. “At one point, they found a dog, they defended on their own … It’s their knowledge of living in the jungle that has saved them.”

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Carolina Rodríguez, a spokeswoman for Colombia’s military working dog training center, told The Post that soldiers confirmed Wilson was with the children at some point.

“The children said the dog had been with them for a while, but then he left,” Rodríguez said. “So, he arrived, found the children and then left to find his handler. That’s how he got lost.”

It’s been two weeks since Wilson disappeared. The search team has let loose two females in heat hoping to attract the neutered canine, Andrés Chaparro, a spokesperson with the Colombian army, told The Post in a text message. The crew has set food at strategic points to keep Wilson fed, and they laid out his handler’s clothes so Wilson can pick up the friendly scent.

“No one is left behind,” the Colombian army tweeted on Friday. “Our commander has given the order to keep up the search for Wilson, the canine leader who helped in the rescue of four children lost in the jungle.”

Once Wilson led the crew to the crashed plane, the search team used all the clothes and possessions of the four siblings found near there to mesh their scents into one, Fontecha said. That way, Wilson was looking for everyone at once, a technique Fontecha had not taught Wilson before, but one he plans to use in future canine training, Fontecha said.

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“That made the scent much stronger,” said Fontecha, who has not been involved in the physical search, as Wilson has a different handler now that he’s fully trained.

Fontecha, who has trained dogs for the Colombian army for 28 years, raised Wilson since the dog was a puppy. It was obvious early in his training that Wilson loved to hunt. On several occasions, the eager dog broke his own leash in pursuit of the toys he was trained to find.

Wilson and his handler spent more than a month searching for the children in the dense jungle, with Wilson always leading, Fontecha said. At one point, Fontecha added, “the dog let loose” and the search crew continued following Wilson’s prints until they found the children. But Wilson was nowhere in sight.

“Why didn’t Wilson come back? That we don’t know,” Fontecha said.

A dog as well-trained as Wilson can survive in that environment for a long time, added Fontecha, who says Wilson may still be diligently searching for the children.

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“To lose a dog is very difficult for me. Ask your father how does he get when he hasn’t heard from you. One feels sadness for the dog because one doesn’t want him to suffer,” Fontecha said. “We watched him grow. We all have a Wilson in our heart.”



Washington Post » World

Published: 2023-06-17 13:50:21

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