Bank Holiday Weekend with the SARDA Wales DogsPublished on: 16 September 2016
Back in July I inherited a cat (a long story). In recent years I have spent hours on Facebook with friends, sharing memes about cats, their odd behaviour and, inevitably, giggling at posts about the cruelly-labelled Crazy Cat Ladies (although I understand they do tend to wear it as a badge of honour….)
I really like all animals but have never been particularly attached to cats – sure, I’d stroke one if I met it in the street and I would always smile indulgently as friends’ cats dug their claws into my lap whilst my friends assured me it was a sign of how much Tibbles / George / Mr Socks liked me – but essentially they were just another animal in my world. Worthy of love and protection by those who had the inclination for it and leave me to my dogs, thank you very much.
I love you Ginger
Then along came Ginger – fast forward eight weeks and he has insinuated himself into my world and onto my lap in a way that is best described by my catching myself kissing him on the head the other morning as I left for work and saying “I’ll see you later Ginger – I love you!”
Why am I telling you all this? Has the woman who usually writes the dog-blogs gone on holiday / left the firm / left the country / lost her mind?!
Back with the search dogs
Colleagues on the search dog team were smilingly voicing concerns about me and whether I had gone over to “the other side”, never to return, so it was a relief at the end of August to get back and hands-on with the search dogs again, all of whom were very understanding and forgiving when I turned up covered in ginger fur from that morning’s cuddle!
August Bank Holiday has always been a big weekend in the calendar of SARDA Wales and we go along to Llanberis, the summit of Snowdon and to Beddgelert Dog Show from early Saturday morning through to late Monday evening to highlight our existence and the fact we are a voluntary rescue service, the public can meet our dogs who pose patiently in photographs for hours and are treated to endless cuddles and admiration and, if all goes well, we leave with our collection buckets straining at the handles with coins (sometimes even notes).
Snowdonia on a Bank Holiday weekend
As ever Kevin Thomas, my long-suffering other half and a partner in Lanyon Bowdler’s private client department, came along with me to Snowdonia on Bank Holiday Saturday where, fortified by a superb cafe breakfast, we delivered buckets and tablecloths and merchandise to the crew covering Llanberis at 9am, before heading back over the pass to Beddgelert for the dog show where we are kindly donated stand space.
Kevin and I were with search dog Nop and Gaynor, a former dog handler who had a very successful search career with her collie Pero (now sadly no longer with us), Geraint and his trainee search dog Wil, a handsome black Labrador. Merched Y Wawr kept us well topped-up with cake and brownies from their stand and Nop and Wil were true ambassadors to the cause.
This picture of me with a dog handler’s personal equipment and all the equipment needed for the dog on a callout (including favourite dog toy to reward them if they make a find) shows how much is involved in a real callout and why handlers also work hard to keep up their own fitness.
Terrier racing chaos
The dog show was very much at the heart of the farming community and there were handsome hounds and gundogs on display and enjoying the day out with their owners. Wil and I came second in the egg & spoon race (YOU try running with a potato on a spoon, with an energetic Labrador on the end of a lead who just wants to eat the potato when it drops off your spoon!) and Nop did very respectably on the obstacle course although he wasn’t too keen on the tunnel, and Gaynor only just stopped short of wriggling into it herself to coax him to follow her, before remembering there was an audience with cameras on their smartphones and a lot of people there who knew her!
However, for me the highlight of the day had to be the terrier racing which involved a stuffed piece of material on a piece of string, wound round a bicycle wheel on top of a bale of hay. As someone wound the bicycle wheel the string, which was metres long, would rotate and so the stuffed bag would be dragged along the ground and could be reeled in backwards and forwards and made to disappear under the hay bale – absolute heaven for a terrier! Hilarious chaos ensued as terriers were let loose in groups to chase the rag and equally funny was watching the efforts of their owners to free it from their mouths when they caught it and tried to shake it to death, or when they disappeared under the hay bale in pursuit. Of course, the collies and Labradors looked on disdainfully…………….
Meanwhile on the mountains
Our groups on Snowdon and in Llanberis had equally long and successful days – and not in the greatest of weather on Sunday.
Having got back into the canine groove I then set off for Gelli Iago for search training on Saturday. We use the Nantmor Mountain Centre in Cwm Croesor, a stunning spot near Beddgelert, which is off-grid and has no mobile signal or Wi-Fi, great for winding down, refocusing and actually talking to each other.
The heavy weather on Friday night meant the rivers were tumbling and magnificent but the rain gave way to glorious sunshine on Saturday, perfect for hiding from dogs and enjoying the views.
Jim, a handler from the Isle of Man team, had come over with his adorable 11-week old wire-haired pointer, Ruby, who charmed everyone with her manners, liveliness and cheeky spirit and she proved herself to be confident and well-behaved even at such a young age. His plan is to train her as his next search dog as his current dog, Star, approaches retirement and I think she will be a very welcome addition to our weekends – and possibly the first search dog with a pink diamante collar!
Damian and his trainee trailing dog Skye are coming on in leaps and bounds so I walked a trail with about four junctions in it, to ensure the dog can follow scent when there is a choice of directions, along the road (beside the river which can provide distractions and do odd things to scent) then up a track across the mountain to a gorgeous spot with uninterrupted views of the Snowdon range. Skye is at the point where her handler is trying to introduce the unexpected into her search exercises so we decided I would take another handler’s dog Maya (one of my favourite little friends!) with me to mimic a common situation where a dog-walker goes missing. This is helpful in assessing how the search dog reacts when it comes across a scene with another dog and would be the first time she had encountered this.
Maya and I had a lovely time, she enjoyed her walk in with me and then we spent about six hours in the sunshine, looking up to Snowdon. At first she didn’t want to settle but she’s very receptive to mood so as soon as she realised that I wanted to read she settled with her head on my lap and snoozed.
Mad women and their dogs go out in the midday sun and as it warmed up I dropped off too, only to be woken by a paw on my stomach and this view,
a face clearly saying “It’s time to play now!”
Fetching my spork
Without a dog toy I improvised with my spork (a case containing an camping implement that can be used as a spoon or fork, shaped conveniently like a bone) and we spent 20 minutes or so playing fetch with it, Maya bounding through the peat and wet grass with joyful abandon and sharing some of that muck and water with me every time she brought the spork back and dropped it on my legs!
Detect scent over a kilometre away
Maya also developed a taste for tea and we shared the contents of my flask, she lapped it eagerly out of my empty salad container but only after I blew on it first to cool it down for madam! Around 3.30pm Maya suddenly sat up and stared into the distance, ears pricked up and eyes intent and I knew someone was coming. However, I was pretty sure it was her nose that had given her the first hint of someone approaching, we know that when the wind is right a dog can detect the scent of humans well over a kilometre away. Sure enough, within a few minutes Skye came bounding across and her response to seeing another dog by the person with the scent she had been following, was superb - Maya barked at her and whilst Skye backed away a couple of feet at first, she was undeterred and recovered her composure within a few seconds to approach me once again and indicate to her handler that she had found me.
At that point Maya was called by the other people in the search party so that I could focus my attention on rewarding Skye with her favourite toy, a tennis ball on a rope. She is utterly fearless and has endless reserves of energy and would happily have played for longer than the eight minutes or so I had with her, as she scampered off across the hillside after the ball, into gorse bushes, puddles, up rocks. Discussing it with her handler I learned that she had trailed me along the road and had gone up a farm track where the wind had blown my scent earlier in the day. However, when that scent ran out she quickly detected that was the case and lost interest in that track, instead returning to the spot where she had turned off and she carried on following the stronger scent trail along the road to the correct junction where she struck out over the hill and successfully negotiated a couple more junctions to find me.
Hard work and dedication
It's always an endless source of joy to see the progress made by each dog and handler in the month between each training session and demonstrates just how much hard work and dedication they put into it every day, not just on our training weekends. If I ever had the misfortune to go missing in Wales, I'd feel pretty confident that I wouldn't be gone for long with our dogs in the area!
Ginger, in the meantime, was delighted to see me that night even though I smelt of dog............ He'll need to get used to it, more training in October and another dog blog to come!
As ever, please do visit www.sardawales.org.uk for more dog pictures and information about our voluntary work.