Lomond MRT Search Dog 'Lewis'
On call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and in all weathers the Search and Rescue Dog Association handlers and their dogs are a welcome sight for many misplaced hill-goers. Lucy Wallace investigates for Mountain Pro Magazine.
I’m dozing in my bivy bag when the shiny black nose of Lewis the Lomond MRT and SARDA dog is pushed into my face. I open my eyes to see his wagging backside bounce away and his bark echoes through the trees. He returns, with more bouncing, barking and wagging, and I hear his handler Rupert Bonham crashing through the undergrowth. “Show meeee, show meeee!”
In a few moments there is a happy reunion. With a dramatic flourish, Rupert produces Lewis’ favourite toy and the pair wrestle together. This is the “find”, the culmination of an elaborate and skilled game played out between handler and dog. At this moment, it seems a lot of fun, but the stakes are high. Search and rescue dogs play a key role in missing person searches. This game is part of a meticulous programme of training and grading of dogs who are in turn vital assets to mountain rescue teams. I’ve been invited to join SARDA (Search and Rescue Dog Association) Southern Scotland (http://www.sarda.org.uk/, for a weekend exercise in Arrochar as a “body”. I’m keen to find out more about what’s involved with training a SARDA dog. The “body’s eye view” of the process is a great place to start - bodies provide the target for search dog teams when training.
SARDA Southern Scotland is a charity that supports its volunteer handlers by paying for equipment, training and insurance. Fortunately sponsorship of the dog’s expensive appetites comes from Eukanuba dog food. The team is part of a network covered by National SARDA (http://www.nsarda.org.uk/)who set agreed national minimum
standards for search dogs. The handlers themselves are usually attached to a local mountain rescue team. It’s through my team on Arran that I’ve got to know Darryl Urquhart-Dixon and Ruby. Like Lewis, Ruby is fully-graded and is a great asset to our team. She willingly travels in helicopters and even on the winch. She plays a big role in missing person searches, and is a popular companion on the hill (if a little keen on other people’s sandwiches). I’ve been impressed by how much work this entails for Darryl who has commitments not only to our mountain rescue team, but also to SARDA Southern Scotland, as well as family and a job. Being on two call-out lists sounds extraordinary, but is normal for SARDA dog handlers.
On the Arrochar meet there is a relaxedatmosphere, but the work is serious. Search dogs save lives, and it’s not just about actually finding people, but also speeding up the work of mountain rescue teams by quickly checking and eliminating large search areas that would take days to search without dogs. It’s important for the handler to be confident in their dog, and so even fully-graded dogs practice continually. In total the organisation has seven dogs on the call-out list and five trainees. Training events take place monthly, with two assessment weekends a year to bring new dogs onto the call-out list when they are ready. end
Lomond MRT is fortunate in having two qualified SARDA Southern dogs - Lewis and newly qualified Molly, and handler Alan, will feature soon!
Many thanks to Lucy Wallace and MountainPro Mag for allowing us to reproduce this article in full. Link below...
The role often involves hiding in obscure places during foul weather, but the team ensure bodies are well wrapped up against the cold. This weekend some of the younger dogs are being “graded”. Grades
are landmark stages in a dog’s training on its way to becoming a fully-fledged SARDA dog. It is a tense time for the handlers, but the dogs love every minute of it. Lewis is already a fully-graded dog (grade 5), he acts like a pro, but Rupert is clearly pleased with his performance.
It’s obvious that both handler and dog
get a huge amount of satisfaction from their work. Once dogs achieve Grade 3, they are on the call-out list for the entire Southern Scotland region, and could be sent on a “shout” at a moment’s notice. At 2.00am that very morning two handlers rush off to join a search on Beinn Vorlich. Happily everyone is found safe and well.