Out in California, fire captain Marc Valentine boarded a bus this morning to start his trip to Haiti. Accompanied by Val, his 12-year-old golden retreiver/laborador mix and partner on the California Task Force 5 out of Orange County Fire and Rescue, Valentine said just the small amount of time he's spent trapped during training excercises make him eager to get down there.
"When I got my dog from Search Dog Foundation and started burying ourselves in the piles, I got a true empathy for the victim," he told ABCNews.com.
"We're coming up on 48 hours these people have been buried," he said. "And how uncomfortable it is to be buried in for an hour -- I can only imaging the terror they are feeling buried in those holes."
Valentine and Val -- who will be retiring after his tour of duty in Haiti -- are expected to land in Haiti tonight.
"You look at huge buildings. We're looking at an island the size of Rhode Island -- where do you start? he said. "These dogs give you the best opportunity to find that starting point."
While many watching disaster coverage see the dogs as having a heroic drive to find the suffering and please their masters, Val and the other dogs with him will be working for one reason only -- to play tug afterward.
"The dogs do it for one reason only. They think the person they find will play tug toy with them," Janet Reineck, director of development for Search Dog Foundation, told ABCNews.com. "Because they've been trained day in and day out that whenever they find a person they can't see, they pull on a tug toy with them."
Search Dog Foundation has six dogs in Haiti and another nine, including Val, on the way. And they are just as useful, if not more so, then the seismic listening devices or tiny cameras the rescue teams employ.
"They are trained very, very heavily to ignore all distraction – sounds, smells, food," she said. "They have to be trained to ignore anything but the scent of a person they cannot see."
And yet the calls for quiet needed by their human counterparts are also necessary to let the dogs work. The dogs train for months to work off leash and when a team has got one dog racing around the harsh terrain of a collapsed building, they need to be able to hear that dog's bark from wherever he comes to a stop.
"The bark alert is what it's all about," Reineck said.
After the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the mounds of twisted steel and dusty concrete would be teeming with emergency workers until they heard the call, "Clear the rubble, the dog is on!" Quickly scrambling off the wreckage, the teams would stand silently as the dog raced across the rubble trying to find anyone still alive.
And if search and rescue dogs clear building after building without finding any survivors, their handlers are trained to bury themselves secretly to give their dogs something to find.
"There's this notion they get depressed. They don't get depressed," Valentine said. "They get bored."
Valentine's team member Val was initially trained to be a service dog for the handicapped, but flunked out after his high energy drive became unworkable.
But that drive is exactly what Valentine wants by his side in the next two weeks.
"This is the real game," he said. "He's going to get out there and he's going to find them."