Dog Tired Searchers Need Break From Washington Mudslide

PHOTO: In this March 27, 2014 photo, a search dog waits to be washed by the feet of Washington National Guardsmen after working the debris field created by the mudslide near Oso, Wash.
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The search dogs that have been working through mud and rain to find victims of the Washington landslide are being given a two-day break to recover from exhaustion and keep their senses sharp.

The canine heroes and their human companions have been trudging through the deep mud and have been working in grueling conditions that have been exacerbated by cold and rain.

Photos: Devastation From the Washington Mudslide

Kris Rietmann, a spokeswoman for the Washington Department of Transportation who has been deployed to the scene of the March 22 mudslide, said the dogs can lose their sensing abilities if they are overworked.

"The conditions on the slide field are difficult, so this is just a time to take care of the dogs," she told the Associated Press.

Dogs that arrived more recently from the Federal Emergency Management Agency will continue working while the local canine team gets some rest, she said.

The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office said at a news conference on Sunday that the death toll has risen to 21 confirmed fatalities. Of those, 15 have been identified and six are pending identification.

The search and recovery process has been painstakingly slow, as authorities announced on Sunday that crews have cleared 450 feet of the total 6,000 feet of Highway 530 that is buried beneath mud and debris.

Using information from satellite scans, authorities estimated the debris field ranges in height from 15 to 75 feet.

PHOTO: Workers and a search dog head into floodwaters on Highway 530 as search work continues in the mud and debris from a massive landslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington March 29, 2014.
Jason Redmond/Reuters Photo
PHOTO: Workers and a search dog head into floodwaters on Highway 530 as search work continues in the mud and debris from a massive landslide that struck Oso near Darrington, Washington March 29, 2014.

PHOTO: Rescue dog Nexus, muddy from working onsite, waits to be decontaminated via hose at the west side of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 in Arlington, Wash., March 30, 2014.
Rick Wilking/AP Photo
PHOTO: Rescue dog Nexus, muddy from working onsite, waits to be decontaminated via hose at the west side of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 in Arlington, Wash., March 30, 2014.

PHOTO: Rescue dog Tryon, muddied from the days work, stands with his handler near the west side of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 in Arlington, Wash., March 30, 2014.
Rick Wilking/AP Photo
PHOTO: Rescue dog Tryon, muddied from the day's work, stands with his handler near the west side of the mudslide on Highway 530 near mile marker 37 in Arlington, Wash., March 30, 2014.

PHOTO: Search dog Stratus leaps through a debris field while working with a handler following a deadly mudslide, March 25, 2014, in Oso, Wash.
Elaine Thompson/AP Photo
PHOTO: Search dog Stratus leaps through a debris field while working with a handler following a deadly mudslide, March 25, 2014, in Oso, Wash.

PHOTO: A rescue worker searches for victims of a mudslide with a rescue dog in Oso, Wash., March 30, 2014.
Rick Wilking/Reuters Photo
PHOTO: A rescue worker searches for victims of a mudslide with a rescue dog in Oso, Wash., March 30, 2014.

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