(WHTM) — After the devastating earthquake in Turkey early in February, and a second just weeks later, specially-trained dogs worked to find survivors. A working dog expert in Pennsylvania says these dogs are an essential part of search and rescue efforts.

“They have the best opportunity to find anybody who might be alive,” Dr. Cindy Otto, executive director of the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, said.

When it comes to disasters, Otto said dogs trained in disaster response are a big part in early rescue efforts.

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“Anything where we have collapsed buildings, where we have people who’ve maybe been swept away, who are, you know, in buildings that have been abandoned, but trying to find who might be alive and unable to respond, that’s where these dogs are so, so important,” Otto said.

Otto, originally an emergency veterinarian, worked with dog teams on 9/11 and during Hurricane Katrina.

“Once I met the dogs and got to see how they worked, I was absolutely hooked,” she said.

Now, she runs the Penn Vet Working Dog Center, training dogs to respond to both natural and manmade disasters.

“They are identifying the odor associated with any live human,” she explained.

Otto said dogs are so effective because they can cover a large area quickly.

“With something so massive as the earthquake in Turkey, we really need to focus on where there are live people, and so the dogs can pinpoint where our best opportunities to save people are,” she said.

Otto added this is a team effort between the dog’s handler and the dog, and a lot goes into being prepared to respond to a disaster.

“They purchase their own dogs, they train on their own time, invest huge amounts of energy and effort, so that they’re ready and able to respond in a situation like this,” she said.

Otto said these dogs go through a physical fitness program.

“All of the dogs in the FEMA system, one of the requirements is that they actually have to climb a six foot metal ladder,” she explained.

All of this helps make sure the dogs are ready to handle the work when it counts.

“The dogs are critical, there’s nothing else that can be as efficient, as effective at finding the survivors,” Otto said.

Otto said other dogs are trained to find human remains and help teams focus on recovery after a disaster.