Earlier in June, Hoyt Brian Yee, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, blasted the Russian-Serbian Humanitarian Center located in the city of Nis, declaring it "a special center for espionage or other nefarious activities."
As it turns out however, the US official has some rather strange ideas about what constitutes "nefarious activities", as Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told Sputnik Serbia.
"Yes, there are two cats and a few dogs that apparently bark so loud you can hear them in Kosovo. Oh, and there are also four pre-retirement age employees as well. All of this must pose a severe threat to the US state security," Rogozin said.
However, after arriving at the center, Sputnik Serbia correspondent Senka Milos discovered that Rogozin’s assessment wasn’t entirely accurate as all the cats appeared to have been driven off by a Belgian Shepherd named Alpa that was given to the facility staff as a gift by Serbian firefighters.
The center employees also jokingly remarked that even though Rogozin was clearly sarcastic, animal rights activists now sometimes call the center to make sure that the rescue workers’ four-legged helpers are properly taken care of.
"I got a feeling that Mr Rogozin actually thinks that we need additional dogs. Maybe he’ll send us a dog as a gift, a dog that will take part in search and rescue operations and everything else that we do in our center? Everyone knows that dogs are extremely helpful in our line of work, so a couple more canines would’ve been useful," chief of the facility Bojan Glamoclija told Sputnik.
In the meantime, Alpa continues to hone her search and rescue skills, devoting all of her time not spent on "espionage" or "nefarious activities" to this pursuit – the canine’s job is to scour disaster sites for survivors trapped under debris and collapsed buildings, and to alert rescue workers to their plight.
The dog spends most of the time with Andrei Dikonov, a Russian rescue specialist working at the center. As Dikonov explained to Sputnik correspondent, he actually worked a lot with dog handlers in Moscow and often played the role of a “victim”, i.e. a person that dogs need to find under the debris, during mock exercises.
"When that roof collapse in a Moscow water park occurred, I saw for the first time how dogs help search for people. Before, I never thought that it was possible. We trust these four-legged fellas, because sometimes even the high-tech gear that we have fails us, but when we send in the dogs, success is guaranteed," Dikonov remarked.
He also added that he personally hasn’t seen any cats or shady characters at the center’s premises – Alpa may be a rescue dog, but she also tends to get quite territorial when someone tries to enter her home uninvited.