The following article was written by Police Constable (Division Events Planner) and SARDA dog handler Alison Todd. It was originally published in the ‘On The Beat feature’ in the Evening Express, and is reproduced with kind permission.
When I am not dealing with shows, games, events and visits by VIP’s, which encompass various licensing, safety and staffing requirements, I am part of the Police (Scotland) Mountain Rescue Team.
I have been a member of the Search and Rescue Dog Association Scotland for 10 years. So what does this mean when I am not doing my daytime job? Being a member of the mountain rescue team means that I can be deployed 24/7 in the North East of Scotland and, with the added skills of being a search dog handler, I can be called out throughout Scotland. I currently have two qualified search and rescue dogs that are trained to search for human scent. They can be deployed to locate missing persons or for articles, or people buried in avalanches. Human scent is carried by the wind and we all cast it off in very large amounts. When the dogs find the scent, they work towards its concentration and bark to lead me to where the person is.
The older search dog Midge was involved in searching for an overdue climber in Lochnagar. Despite the underfoot conditions, heavy snow and high risk of avalanche, our group made its way to a safe area of the Corrie. As we arrived, Midge indicated that there was something there, and the person was found safe and well sheltering inside a large first aid box. Midge was also successful in locating a vulnerable missing lady in the Deeside area who had wandered away from secure accommodation.
Felix is my younger new recruit, and soon after passing his first assessment and going on the call-out list, he was deployed to search for someone missing who had been taking part in mountain sports in the Highlands area along with other dogs. Even though he had only just passed his training course, he understood the role he had to perform.
It takes two years of intensive training to qualify the dogs to full status. This involves a lot of work in my own time. During training we use friends and family members to act as casualties by hiding in the hills, up trees and underneath snow. Collie dogs are the best breed to use as they have a great work/play drive and only have to be shown things once or twice.
Felix has recently learned how to find people buried in the snow and has picked up the idea very quickly. I just wonder if my garden is going to suffer the same mining work, but then there isn’t a body buried under the flowerbeds – not that I know of!
Felix On The Go
The dogs stay at home with me and, when they are not out on searches, they are my pets. But as soon as they hear the phone ringing, especially in the middle of the night, they are up and standing at the front door ready to go, They go into work mode when the harness goes on and after a successful find they are rewarded with a squeaking toy. When search duties are over I return to my other daytime job while the dogs dream of squeaky toys and sleep with a full belly!