'It is so important to get people back to their families': Cork man to travel with his dog to Ukraine to aid in search and rescue operations

Padraig said he has been training intensely with his beloved dog in a bid to ensure Cooper is ready for this mission to Ukraine. 
'It is so important to get people back to their families': Cork man to travel with his dog to Ukraine to aid in search and rescue operations

Cork man Padraig O’Keeffe and his dog Cooper will depart for Ukraine shortly as they attempt to utilise their skills and expertise in the ongoing search and rescue operations in the war-torn country.

CORK man Padraig O’Keeffe and his dog Cooper will depart for Ukraine shortly where Padraig hopes they can utilise their skills and expertise in the ongoing search and rescue operations in the war-torn country.

Padraig, who hails from Cobh, and his two-year-old Labrador dog Cooper will leave Ireland for Ukraine on April 30, where Mr O'Keeffe said he will be involved in searching for bodies that are buried underneath collapsed buildings.

“We will be helping with the search and recovery capability which is searching for the dead. It is so important to get people back to their families. We are sailing to Roscoff, [and will travel] through France, Northern Italy, up through Slovenia and into Hungary. From Hungary I will then head for Kyiv. I will then be looking to recruit an interpreter who will stay with me for the duration of the deployment,” he said.

Cork man Padraig O’Keeffe and his dog Cooper.
Cork man Padraig O’Keeffe and his dog Cooper.

Mr O’Keeffe, who is ex-military, said as soon as the situation escalated in Ukraine earlier this year, he ‘sensed’ there was something both he and Cooper could do to help.

“My background would be urban search and rescue which would be more disaster response. Cooper has a solid foundation in urban search and rescue. When the war in Ukraine started, I sensed there was something we could do to help.

“I have the skill. I am ex-military. I have served a lot overseas and I have the experience of search and rescue with my last dog Mambo. Mambo had nine successful recoveries. Six of these were under the rubble following the earthquake in Italy in 2015. Getting the thanks from the families afterwards was just an emotional overload. He also had three recoveries in Ireland, one off the Kerry coast and two from inland waterways in Cork,” he added.

Padraig said he has been training intensely with his beloved dog in a bid to ensure Cooper is ready for this mission to Ukraine. 

“My interest in the search dogs came after I was deployed to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010. We will be looking for any bodies that may be buried under the rubble. Cooper has been working off packs which contain human hair, human teeth, and blood. His training is full on at the moment. Cooper has got superpowers. Their sense of smell is a superpower.” 

Working with emergency services

Mr O’Keeffe boasts considerable experience and expertise from a military perspective. He served with the French military in the early 1990s with deployments to Cambodia and the Balkans. He has also worked in Iraq, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Kurdistan, Benin, Togo and Ghana in a private security capacity. He said he will be liaising with emergency services in Ukraine. 

“I will be working with the state emergency services so that will be their rescue teams. After Kyiv I hope to push out into the areas that were under Russian control and see what assistance is required. Everything will be very fluid. I will be liaising with the Ukrainian emergency services on the ground. I have spent my whole life doing operations. I have been coming and going over years. I love it.”

Cooper will depart for the Ukraine shortly with his owner Padraig O'Keeffe.
Cooper will depart for the Ukraine shortly with his owner Padraig O'Keeffe.

Padraig will utilise his vast experience and professionalism to ensure he remains ‘mission focused’ despite the unfolding horror in Ukraine. He said he will stay in Ukraine for as long as possible.

“I have seen it before, but it still doesn’t make it any easier. I have so much value on the mission I am prepared to take it on. I am very mission focused and there is huge value to recovering the dead."

Fundraiser for mission 

“I am in no hurry to come home. It is something I love doing. If I can do something good out there, we will stay as long as the funding is there. The last sailing back from Roscoff on the ship we are sailing on is October 28. I have set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for this mission. I have received fantastic community support. If I reach the funding target of €20,000 I will be staying there until the end of October. If the funding is there, I will come out, reequip for winter operations, and go back there,” he added.

Padraig, who will turn 53 later this year said it will be nice to play his part to help families suffering from the war. 

“I have the skill set and the experience. Cooper has a solid foundation. It will be nice to play my part. We will do our best.”

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