Senior civil servant and dog handler

Senior civil servant and dog handler

  • People
  • Equipment, Information Technology and In-Service Support
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5 MIN

Big brown eyes attentively watching every visitor at Christina Sonntag’s office. The dog is curious and lifts his head, then runs to the door and greets the visitors, wagging his tail. Cisco is a trained rescue dog and Christina Sonntag is his handler. Not only does the dog accompany his mistress during her volunteer work, he hardly ever leaves her side at the BAAINBw.

A woman kneeling next to a dog on a lawn

Christina Sonntag and Cisco are an inseparable team in their private lives and at work

Bundeswehr/Dirk Bannert

There is a small metal disc with a red cross on it hanging from Cisco’s neck. This means that the Dutch Shepherd is a rescue dog of the German Red Cross (DRK). He and his handler are one of the teams of the DRK Bensheim e.V. rescue dog unit. "We spend a lot of time together and we are quite attuned to each other," says Christina Sonntag. At BAAINBw, she is responsible for the so-called locally deployable networks of the Bundeswehr as deputy project manager. Among other tasks, she and her team ensure that soldiers on deployment have access to networks. A task which requires her full concentration because communication in operations can be essential for the troops’ survival. At the weekends she regularly commutes between Koblenz and her home town. In order to strengthen the bond between human and dog, she requested to be allowed to bring animals into Bundeswehr facilities. Her superior saw this as an opportunity to honor her volunteer work and supported the request.

They saved a life during their first mission

A brown dog lying on a parquet floor

Cisco lying on the floor of the office relaxed but alert.

Bundeswehr/Dirk Bannert

Last year, a short time after passing the rescue dog exam, the first "real" rescue mission took place. The Sunday began with the usual training session for the rescue dog unit when the rescue assistant was called out to a swimming accident. A short time after the end of the mission Christina Sonntag and Cisco were alerted again. With teams from the rescue dog unit of the Bergstraße-Odenwaldkreis e.V., the specialized detection working group of the technical relief organization (THW) Viernheim, the THW Bensheim and own forces, they went into the search area allocated to them. Nobody knew whether the missing person was in that area and what state of health they were in. Suddenly, Cisco barked, he had managed to find the missing person on his first mission! The dog handler administered first aid with the assistance of a colleague and then handed the patient over to the alerted rescue forces. "For Cisco, this is all one big game. During his training, Cisco learned that strange persons are also interesting and that it is worthwhile searching for them and finding them. He points out persons by barking and then waits for his reward in the form of food. To him there is no difference between a mission and training - which is not the case for me," says Sonntag. Cisco’s strong food motivation makes training and working with him easier.

The dog is popular in the branch

A dog lying on its back looking at the camera

Cisco knows how to pose

Bundeswehr/Dirk Bannert

Cisco has meanwhile become an integral part of the branch. The office doors are always open and people are literally waiting for the dog in order to play with him. "We concentrate on our work every day. It is great when the dog comes in and nudges you because he wants to be petted. During the breaks, we make time to play with the animal. It blows the cobwebs away," says project and team manager lieutenant colonel Maurizio Klug. With a smile, branch chief Dirk Müller adds: "If you want a job here you’d better not be afraid of dogs or allergic to them. Regular cuddles for the dog are part of our job description." The branch chief is proud of his colleague who spends large parts of her free time doing volunteer work.

Dirk Müller, Chief of Branch
The occasional sniff and asking for cuddles really improves the already excellent atmosphere in the branch.

There have been no complaints about the dog in the branch so far - unless the dog has to stay at home. When Cisco isn’t there, something is missing from the IT experts’ building. There was only one occasion that caused irritated looks which was when snoring was heard in the background during a video conference.

Aruba has already been trained to heel

Christina Sonntag in her DRK personal protective equipment, holding puppy Aruba

Soon to be seen on operations: The nine week old puppy Aruba will also be trained as a rescue dog

Bundeswehr/Dirk Bannert

Aruba is Christina Sonntag’s second dog. The puppy is nine weeks old and also a Dutch Shepherd. A request to bring animals to Bundeswehr facilities has already been submitted for the little dog. However, nobody can resist her big round eyes. Currently, Aruba spends a lot of time sleeping under the desk. Of course Christina Sonntag will also train the dog as a rescue dog. The training will start in the coming days. From an age of six months, the dog will be tested for its aptitude as a rescue dog. If she passes this and other tests, she can become a rescue dog. "Unlike Cisco, Aruba is rather playful. But this is also something we can use to our advantage," says Christina Sonntag laughing. She is very glad that she can take Cisco (and soon hopefully also Aruba) to work with her. "I have been so incredibly lucky here. I am very happy and grateful about the support we receive from my branch chief and the entire team."

"Nerdy" names

When asked about her dogs’ unusual names, the dog handler explains that Cisco is from a so-called "C-litter". Which means that the dog’s name has to begin with a C. "After a long search on the Internet, I found the name Cisco. As I also work with network components at BAAINBw, I found this name somehow fitting." So the dog was named after the slogan "a good router always finds a way". It was similar for Aruba. The puppy comes from an "A-litter". So what would be more natural than naming her after a company producing wireless networks? "This is admittedly rather unusual, some call it 'nerdy' but it just fits and both names are easy to say."

A soldier carrying a puppy in his arms

Aruba is always a welcome guest at BAAINBw

Bundeswehr/Dirk Bannert
Puppy sitting on grass

Aruba is only nine weeks old but will soon start training to be a rescue dog

Bundeswehr/Dirk Bannert

Questions to Christina Sonntag

Dennis König

What are your current tasks at BAAINBw?

I am responsible for coordinating project activities in the branch. As deputy project manager I am also responsible for the technical operational maturity of the projects "deployable participant network" and "deployable access networks of the Bundeswehr, 1st lot". Generally these projects are based on commercial-off-the-shelf technology. Nevertheless, the networks have to work under military operational conditions.

Dennis Köng

Which challenges do you face?

The requirements concerning environmental influences (temperatures, dust, humidity) are high and can only be fulfilled by adding protection in the case of mostly sensitive network components. The networks should also be compact and light. At the same time, they should be as easy to operate as possible. This is demanding. However, if you get the chance to observe the systems live in operations and receive positive feedback but also criticism from the network administrators in charge, this is an indescribable experience. We benefit from these experiences as do the soldiers on operations because we directly implement these experiences in the project.

Dennis König

What made you decide to become a volunteer at the DRK (German Red Cross)?

The rescue dog unit! I’ve wanted a dog of my own for a long time. But I always had doubts as to whether I would live up to the responsibility. The demanding team work between humans and dogs combined with the thought of doing good made me curious. So I took a closer look. I started at the rescue dog unit as a helper without a dog of my own and I used to hide in the woods for the rescue dog teams to find me. At first I hoped that working with dogs in general would be sufficient for me. But I quickly came to realize that the opposite was true. After about a year, Cisco moved in with me.

Dennis König

How many hours are required to complete the training?

Generally you can say that a team is ready for their exam after two to three years. The training to become a rescue dog handler comprises cynology, the study of dog breeds, breeding, dog husbandry, canine behavior, training and canine diseases. Also canine first aid, orienteering, safety in operations, operational doctrines and further training. We also completed our basic helper training course including voice radio training at the DRK and a training for the medical service, and it is our duty to participate in further training regularly. As members of the rescue dog unit, we are part of the standby reserve at the local branch and provide the medical service at festivities and sports events. So quite a lot of hours accumulate if you add the dog training.

Dennis König

What are the "life cycle costs" of a rescue dog?

The DRK provides our equipment. This includes my personal protective equipment and Cisco’s service dog vest. Should Cisco be injured during training or service, they also bear the costs. Costs for special training courses are added to the normal costs for a dog. For instance, we take part in a special snow training in the Allgäu region every winter. There are also numerous opportunities to take part in special intensive training courses during the rest of the year. We often finance this ourselves. At first I actually wrote down every sum I spent on Cisco. But at some point I gave up. The largest acquisition was a new car. The boot of my old car was simply too small for the dog and the equipment. ufgeschrieben. Irgendwann habe ich es aufgegeben. Die teuerste Anschaffung war ein neues Auto. Bei meinem alten Auto war einfach der Kofferraum für Hund und Ausrüstung zu klein.

by Dennis König

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