March 3, 2024

It was on the second day of rescue and retrieval operation for two individuals who were buried by a landslide in Loacan, Itogon, Benguet on Aug. 17 when Pat. Cyrus Backeng and his K9 partner, Zeus, were dispatched to join the operation.
Backeng and Zeus, who have been partners for six years, met with the relatives of the victims and barangay officials to discuss the possible areas where the bodies might be found.  
The duo, with the team of volunteers and the police, scoured the stretch of the Antamok River for a day but to no avail.
The next day, they were told to search near the huge boulder down the river, as it is one of the areas where the victims might have sought shelter.
“We walked around the boulder for Zeus to detect the smell of the bodies. I had to ask some of the people to move away from the area so they would not interfere with the smell,” Backeng said.
Zeus then started barking, an indication he had detected something. The team then moved to dig deeper, where they saw and recovered the body of Nestor Talangcag on Aug. 19. The next day, the body of Morina Simeon Lintan was also found near the area.
Zeus, a Belgian Malinois, is one of the 33 K9 dogs of the Police Regional Office-Cordillera Regional Explosive and Canine Unit being tapped in various operations.
He was recently awarded the outstanding service medal and a certificate of recognition for his contribution during the retrieval operations in Itogon.
Backeng was also awarded the Medalya ng Pagtulong sa Nasalanta (PNP Disaster Relief and Rehabilitation Medal).
The partnership of Backeng and Zeus started in 2015, when the Tactical Operations Group 1 of the Philippine Air Force with the support of Office of the Civil Defense-Cordillera organized the Cordillera K9 SAR Team.
The team gathered civilian volunteers who wanted to help in search, rescue and retrieval operations.
Backeng was then a civilian volunteer but Zeus was not his original partner. The name of the hero dog’s original partner was Ruben Ventura, also a civilian volunteer.
Backeng said Ventura wanted to join the K9 team but had no means to buy a dog, more so one with a breed that is needed for the SAR tasks.
He said Ventura was then told of someone who owns a Belgian Malinois but he had to go to Tarlac to get it.
Off he went to fetch the dog and upon arrival, Ventura’s excitement turned to disappointment.
“Zeus was extremely malnourished and even had bruises when he was first taken in,” Backeng said, as he shared what had Ventura told him.
It was Ventura and his son who nursed and rehabilitated Zeus until he was ready to train with the SAR team.
After six months of training, Ventura left the country to work abroad while Backeng’s K9 dog trainee got pregnant. Ventura eventually handed Zeus to Backeng as his new handler and partner.
“It was hard at first because we had to get to know each other. Zeus was hard-headed and aggressive but after sometime we got along well,” Backeng said.
So, they continued the one-year training and in 2017, Backeng decided to join the PNP together with Zeus.
RECU Officer-in-Charge, Col. Pelita Tacio said their K9 units were trained to have different functions for narcotics detection, explosives detection, search and rescue, and tracking.
Tacio said those who want to undergo handler’s course are required to have their own dogs. For now, she said the RECU-Cordillera have not established its breeding facility unlike in Camp Crame where the Explosive Ordinance Disposal Canine Unit has its own breeding site for dog trainees.
“But we provide for the needs of the dogs like vitamins, food, medicines and others so they could perform well,” Tacio said.
Backeng said the dog breed is important to consider for K9, as it helps in their performance of tasks. The American Kennel Club describes Belgian Malinois as “smart, confident, versatile and a world-class worker who forges an unbreakable bond with his human partner.”
Backeng is training another Belgian Malinois and a Rottweiler to be part of the K9 unit.
He said Belgian Malinois perseveres even in the heat or cold that is why as a handler, he makes sure they work for 30 minutes and rest for 30 minutes as well.
Backeng said the retirement age for K9 dogs is 10 years. Zeus will celebrate his seventh birthday, or 50 years old in human years, in January 2022.
He said Zeus is not only his partner at work but also a part of his family.
“I bring home Zeus to refresh him. My kids love Zeus and even if I leave him with them, he is playful and loving to them,” he said. – Ofelia C. Empian