Mine Detection Dogs: Working Together to Save Lives

When people think of dogs, they are often reminded of the bond with their loyal, furry friends. The relationship between Alden Ćesko and Betsy, an 8 year-old German Shepherd, is no exception.  With support from the U.S. Department of State and the Marshall Legacy Institute (MLI), a U.S.-based non-profit organization, Alden and Betsy -- a mine detection dog in Bosnia and Herzegovina -- work together to save lives and prevent injuries from landmines and unexploded munitions.

Since their pairing in 2009, Betsy and her trainer Alden have searched approximately 103 acres of mine-contaminated land in Bosnia and Herzegovina. This cleared land can now be safely used to create irrigation channels, raise cattle, and grow crops.  Betsy and Alden have also been involved in some very tricky operations, including clearing land after the 2014 flooding in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The heavy rain and flooding led to concerns of unearthed landmines spreading around the country, and Betsy and Alden were tasked with searching the suspected newly-contaminated land. Due to Betsy and Alden’s unique teamwork, they were able to navigate through the debris and quickly search the suspected hazardous areas, protecting the local population from potential landmine accidents.  MLI also recognized their success in the field by awarding them the 2014 mine detection dog team of the year.  

Alden Ćesko and his Mine Detection Dog (MDD) Betsy getting ready to go to work in Bosnia-Herzegovina [The Marshall Legacy Institute].

Since 1999, MLI has donated and deployed more than 200 mine detection dogs to several current and post-conflict countries worldwide.  A trained mine detection dog and its handler can search an area up to 30 times faster than a human demining technician without compromising accuracy. Over the past two years, these teams of dogs and their human counterparts have searched more than 1,700 acres of mine-contaminated land worldwide. 

MLI was one of the U.S. Department of State’s original partners in humanitarian mine action, and remains an important contributor not only through its Mine Detection Dog program, but also by providing hospital training and prostheses, rehabilitative treatment, and vocational training for landmine survivors in mine-affected countries. 

The United States is the world’s leading provider of financial and technical assistance for the clearance of explosive remnants of war, and looks forward to continued collaboration with its partners in the region. Since 1993, the United States has invested more than $2.5 billion in aid to more than 90 countries to help alleviate the threat of unexploded ordnance, landmines, conventional weapons, and munitions.

Betsey and Alden are one of many human-canine teams who put their lives on the line to protect innocent civilians every day. Although Betsy is slated to retire in the near future, that does not mean that her relationship with Alden will end. Once Betsy retires Alden plans on adopting her. Though they may not be working together in the field, their hard work will continue to have an unforgettable impact on communities in Bosnia and Herzegovina by making previously-contaminated land a safer place. 

About the Author: Elizabeth Wilson is a Resource Management Fellow serving in the Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.  

For more information:

  • Read about U.S. humanitarian demining and Conventional Weapons Destruction programs, in the latest edition of our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety.
  • Learn more about other innovative partnerships between the State Department and non-profit and other organizations. 
  • Follow the Bureau of Political Military-Affairs @StateDeptPM on Twitter and on Facebook.


MDD Betsy and her trainer Alden practice sniffing out explosives. [The Marshall Legacy Institute]
Posted by Elizabeth Wilson
March 3, 2016


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