ROME, Italy — There are all the usual cute blonds and brunettes, but these aren't your ordinary Baywatch beach babes.
And sunbathers on Roman shores expecting a Pamela Anderson lookalike to offer lifesaving resuscitation may be in for a rude shock: rescue services here have turned over many duties to specially trained dogs.
In order to tackle a high number of drowning deaths, the Latium region, where Rome is located, this summer launched the project, called Safe Sea, in partnership with the Dogs Rescue Operations School of the Tyrrhenian Sea, which specializes in preparing dogs for lifeguards missions.
In the last 20 years, the dogs of the Tyrrhenian rescue center have saved more that 200 people at sea, according to center director, Roberto Gasbarri.
Each dog works in team with its human lifeguard “colleague,” who is also its trainer. The duo is trained to rescue drowning swimmers. The dogs are willing to jump directly from a moving speedboat or jet into the water to rescue a swimmer.
A rapid call system enables the lifeguard to contact the coast guard boats and helicopters in case of major danger.
The deployment of dogs as lifeguards here was first envisaged as a way to patrol free-access beaches.
The Roman coast features miles of unkept and deserted shorelines. Swimmers on these beaches are largely left alone to enjoy the sun, the sparkling water and, inevitably, the danger.
An added benefit is the dogs' ability to detect summer fires and other environmental risks that occur in the parks and natural reserves that lie adjacent to many of these isolated beaches.
On Ostia beach, the most popular of Rome, the Labrador “officer” has turned into the major summer attraction for both citizens and tourists.
“I rely much more on the dogs than the humans if I were drowning,” 20-year-old Piero said. “It’s their nature to save people. But more of these animals are needed here, especially considering all the children that venture alone out at sea.”
Summer sea deaths still occur on a daily base.
In late July, two foreign children drowned in the north of Italy despite their father's desperate efforts to save them.