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Kilian the sniffer dog searches for survivors after the Morocco quake

A golden retriever named Kilian is part of a Swedish rescue team in Morocco after the earthquake. He's a veteran of past disaster rescue missions and his handlers say he helped find 18 people alive under the rubble in Turkey earlier this year.
Carol Guzy for NPR
A golden retriever named Kilian is part of a Swedish rescue team in Morocco after the earthquake. He's a veteran of past disaster rescue missions and his handlers say he helped find 18 people alive under the rubble in Turkey earlier this year.

TNIRTE, Morocco — The men of the village pause, lean on their shovels, sweating — and pray for the sweet sound of a dog's bark.

A hush falls over a crowd of survivors encircling a two-story mound of red clay bricks and debris — all that's left of their homes — as sniffer dogs scamper around, wearing special booties to protect their paws.

They're searching for this town's last missing person: a 9-year-old girl named Shaima. Her father, Mohammed Abarada, has been digging for days with his bare hands.

"He's in shock," says the man's sister-in-law, Latifa Abarada. "He lost his first wife a few years ago, and his second wife in the quake."

More than 50 people are dead in this village of just a few hundred.

Kilian searches through rubble in Tnirte for this town's last missing person: a nine-year-old girl named Shaima.
/ Carol Guzy for NPR
/
Carol Guzy for NPR
Kilian searches through rubble in Tnirte for this town's last missing person: a nine-year-old girl named Shaima.
Kilian's paws are fitted with special booties for his mission in Tnirte.
/ Carol Guzy for NPR
/
Carol Guzy for NPR
Kilian's paws are fitted with special booties for his mission in Tnirte.

For the first 48 hours after Morocco's Sept. 8 quake, Abarada and his neighbors had no outside help. They pulled survivors and bodies, including that of his wife, from the rubble themselves.

Now sniffer dog teams have arrived from Europe. The dogs are trained to detect signs of life under the rubble.

One of them, a golden retriever named Kilian, lives in Sweden and travels the world. Earlier this year, he deployed as part of a quake relief mission in Turkey, where his minders say he helped find 18 people alive under the rubble.

He'll only bark if he senses someone alive.

Kilian and his handlers in Tnirte.
/ Carol Guzy for NPR
/
Carol Guzy for NPR
Kilian and his handlers in Tnirte.

All digging is put on pause as Kilian climbs a pile of debris. Survivors, rescuers and foreign journalists gather around. The dog circles the wreckage and hones in on what was once a second-story bathroom — where Abarada thinks he last saw his daughter.

Everyone holds their breath, straining their ears for any little hint of a dog's bark. A rooster crows in the distance. Someone coughs nervously.

Kilian sniffs — but stays silent.

After a few rounds of this, Kilian's minders give him water and move on to the next village. There are many more towns like this one, where help has yet to reach.

Past nightfall, Spanish rescuers uncover the body of little Shaima — and her father finally stops digging.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Kilian rests next to his water bowl in Tnirte on Tuesday.
/ Carol Guzy for NPR
/
Carol Guzy for NPR
Kilian rests next to his water bowl in Tnirte on Tuesday.
Kilian as seen through the windshield of the car.
/ Carol Guzy for NPR
/
Carol Guzy for NPR
Kilian as seen through the windshield of the car.

Lauren Frayer
Lauren Frayer covers South Asia for NPR News. In 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.