SARDA Wales' October TrainingPublished on: 16 November 0017
SARDA Wales’ October training weekend got off to an exciting start with an unlikely and unwilling celebrity in our midst! October is always the pre-assessment weekend, where the dogs and handlers due to be assessed in November are put through their final paces, any little issues identified and tweaked and a variety of possible terrains covered.
Ben goes AWOL
However, a few days earlier Trainee Search Dog Ben had decided to branch out on his own, during a walk on Snowdon with his handler’s friend, and he went missing. Thanks to the power of social media little Ben’s story was put out there and in the first six hours after the news broke, was shared and liked more than 100,000 times on Facebook!!
It was a filthy night of high winds and sideways rain and it’s probably fair to say none of us slept a wink, worrying about him. Members of local Mountain Rescue Teams went out in awful weather to search for him – he’s very used to being outside in all sorts and is a rugsy-tugsy little collie but those conditions, together with the fear he must have felt, made it a very worrying time for all concerned.
Ben is found!
I think the wind speed became a gust the next morning, therefore, when we all breathed a collective sigh of relief at the news he had been found. Kes, the Team vet, had gone for an early run on Snowdon and to see if she could find any sign of him and, to everyone’s immense joy she heard Ben (cold and hungry but otherwise not too shaken by his ordeal) whimpering at the outflow of Llyn Glaslyn, partway up Snowdon. She coaxed him towards her (with cat treats!) and carried him down the mountain to be reunited with his delighted handler, Alex.
Plans to spend our training weekend searching for him were abandoned, designs for flyers ditched and we got down to the job in hand of getting Ben and the other dogs ready for assessment in November.
I also had a lovely morning meeting one of our little puppy friends from the Isle of Man, Cody, whose dad Matt is training to be a search dog for the Manx team. After a late night and an early morning nothing quite beats excited wet nose snuggles from a blue merle puppy!
Down to business and I was sent to the beach at Dinas Dinlle to body for the lowland search dogs, Izzy, Matt and Ben.
We started with a short search for Ben just to make sure that he wasn’t shaken by his ordeal earlier in the week and that he was happy to range away from his handler, luckily there was no cause for concern and he found me very quickly in the long grass.
After that a party of us were sent to disperse around the dunes, with some entertaining fence-climbing acrobatics on the way (what looks like a simple hop over a fence becomes a different story when you have a fully loaded rucksack on your back – and an audience!), I found a lovely spot down near the edge of a beach, dug down into a drumlin where there was a nice sheltered stretch of sand for a snooze, it was dry enough to get my book out and I had the waves whispering in my ears, a superb view of the Search & Rescue helicopter base nearby and I could watch them training.
However, it was not the day to find out that the insulation on your flask has broken and your lovely hot tea, prepared two hours earlier, is now tepid water. That’s never a good start to five hours of lying in the same spot, but thankfully my book was absorbing and my rucksack full of tasty provisions.
Found by the search dogs
First in to find me was Trainee Search Dog Matt who struck on my scent from a couple of hundred yards away and gave my ears a thorough lick before returning to his handler to indicate the find and bring him back to me. Matt loves a good game of tug as his reward and demonstrated his strength by catching me unawares and pulling me along the ground on my stomach by a short piece of rope, oblivious to any sense of decorum!
Having got the sand out of my top and dusted myself down I snuggled back into my sleeping bag with my book, for a brief rest before Search Dog Izzy found me. I body for Izzy a good deal and she’s an absolute livewire, seemingly impossible to tire out although I had a good go with her tennis ball which she chased for a good five minutes before she realised she had “de-squeaked” it (RIP, tennis ball!)
My final “knight in furry armour” was Trainee Search Dog Ben who seemed to have put all his adventure behind him and was ranging freely across the dunes, locating bodies. By now the wind had picked up and it was starting to rain so I retreated deep into my bivvy bag. This didn’t faze Ben at all, he struck on my scent from across the dunes and burrowed deep into the top of my bivvy bag to check he had found me, before racing back to Alex and barking to bring him back to me, having to return to him three times and re-locate me on each occasion.
Back to the control point
After a good game of tug and chase Ben was quite happy to settle down for a brief cuddle with me before setting off to find his final body, and I was asked to head back up to the “control” point to meet the other handlers and assessors from where we watched Alex and Ben search the rest of their area, (whilst each silently planning a more graceful return over the fence on the way back – I didn’t succeed with any more grace or finesse than the first time but am lucky to be surrounded by chivalrous types!), back for a debrief and a journey home in the growing gloom along the dramatic coastline as darkness fell.
Dogs on social media!
Some of our dogs now have their own Facebook pages (yes, search dogs are so clever they can even use smartphones and remember passwords!) so if you’d like to know more please friend request them and keep up to date with their exploits:
Matt- The Search and Rescue Dog
Izzy Searchdog Sherlock
Ginger, the trailing dog, also keeps us entertained with his photos and little stories on Twitter @gingegsd and loves to make new friends, so give him a follow and some likes!