One weekend a month I join S.A.R.D.A Scotland’s search & rescue dogs and their handlers for two days of training. We meet in a different location each time, and no matter what the weather, most of Saturday and Sunday is spent outside.
My job as a ‘body’ is to be just that: to act as a casualty in a designated search area. Each handler and search dog spends the day searching for the people acting as casualties in the multiple search areas that are set up. The idea is to provide scenarios that mirror those they may encounter during a real life callout.
My spot on this occasion was about 500m up the hillside. I had just found a comfortable angle to lie down in without sliding down the hillside and zipped myself into my bivvy bag, when the first peal of thunder rang through the glen. As the ice rain started to intensify and the wind picked up, lightning flashed and another, louder thunderclap ricocheted around the peaks of Glen Nevis.
“This could be interesting,” I thought to myself.
My name is Elana and I volunteer as a ‘body’ for S.A.R.D.A Scotland. The handlers and dogs are called to a variety of incidents, including missing, vulnerable or injured people, both on the hill or closer to home. All handlers need to have been a member of a mountain rescue team for a minimum of two years. This is to ensure that they have the necessary skills to operate – and stay safe – in absolutely all types of weather conditions, and terrain, at any time of day, anywhere in Scotland. Training weekends are crucial to maintain the physical abilities and skills of both dogs and handlers.
As the thunderstorm passes overhead, I hear a distant tinkle that is out of place in the surroundings. The first search dog has picked up my scent and is headed my way, the bell on its harness a welcome distraction from the sounds of the wild weather.
Thirty seconds later I hear four paws gallop through the heather towards me, and the dog barks to tell its handler that I’ve been found. It sounds very much like a command of “Hurry up!” to me. A wet nose finds its way into my bivvy bag and presses against my cheek as if to say “Hello! I’ve found you!”. I can’t help but smile at the tender gesture, and get ready to crawl out of my bivvy bag for the dogs reward: a decent round of tug of war.