Remembering Golden Retriever Cracker

Award winning rescue dog dies
By Gavin Lonergan, Mourne Observer

AWARD-WINNING rescue Dog Cracker has died in Newcastle, at the advanced age of 14, after a short illness. The golden retriever, who had lived and worked with his owner, rescue dog handler Neil Powell, was specially trained for disaster work and helped locate survivors and victims of the Izmit earthquake in Turkey in 1999, which killed over 45,000 people.

Mr Powell told the Mourne Observer that the death of Cracker would leave a “big gap” in his life. He said: “I’d had him from he was eight weeks old, having gone over to England to collect him and his brother specifically.

“Cracker was a very special dog. He’d had a sore leg for the past three weeks and the vet told me it was broken and the calcium had been eaten away by the cancer. “But not once did Cracker let on, or growl or complain. You would not have known. He was that type of dog. “He will be greatly missed,” Mr Powell added.

The Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA), of which Mr Powell formed the northern branch, described the dog as one of the “heroes” of the Turkish earthquake in 1999.

A statement said: “For his untiring heroism during the rescue effort with the UK Search and Rescue team, Cracker was awarded the PDSA Gold Medal Award for Gallantry and Devotion to Duty. “He had to endure six months of quarantine following that deployment but had since been involved in many search operations throughout Ireland. He was also later awarded the Golden Borneo Award Gold Medal in 2000 for his heroism.

“A real gentleman of the doggy world, Cracker will be sorely missed by us all but especially by his owners, Neil and Kate Powell.”


Here is an article of Cracker’s earlier work in Turkey.

Rescue worker speaks of Turkish ‘horror’
UK: Northern Ireland, BBC News, August 23, 1999

A search and rescue volunteer back from the Turkish earthquake has been describing the scenes of horror in the disaster zone. Dog-handler Neil Powell from Newcastle in Co Down searched wrecked buildings at two villages in the Instanbul area with his dog Cracker, a golden retriever.

Neil Powell: “Everybody was dead.” He said: “It was just devastation, it was absolutely dreadful.”

Once there, hopes of helping to find and rescue survivors were quickly dashed. He said: “Where we were, everybody was dead”.

Like some others he was critical of building standards in Turkey which he believed had contributed to the death toll, now feared to be as high as 40,000. “The builders were cutting costs, making an awful lot of money. They were using sand from the beach as well. The concrete was just being scratched off.

“As a result of that my dog, who has now been whisked away to quarantine, suffered terrible problems with inhaling cement dust from the work.”

Mr Powell and Cracker are part of the UK-based Canis organisation which trains rescue dogs for work in disaster zones all over the world. After their latest assignment the pair face being separated for six months as a precaution against importing rabies to the UK.

He said it was “very tough” on both him and the dog and he hoped that special arrangements might be made for rescue dogs in the future.

Mr Powell said it was still difficult to speak about the scenes of distress as he worked with grieving relatives in an attempt to recover their dead. “I have been involved in the Lockerbie air crash, recovering bodies there, and in various other places, but this was the most horrendous thing I have ever seen.”

Click here to see a video of Mr. Powell and Cracker – “Life returns to normal for rescue worker.”


One thought on “Remembering Golden Retriever Cracker

  1. I am deeply saddened reading about this news. I have a 17 years toy poodle, who is now blind, deaf, no teeth, skin allergies and kidney disease, but with my great care, she is loved deeply, included in my activities. I bought her a baby carriage to go on walks with me and we visit nursing homes.

    This dog in the story must have been a real friend to his owner.

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