A shortage in the number of search and rescue dogs available for use in emergency situations in the hills has led to a call for more mountaineers to take up the challenge.
The plea came as only six dogs and handlers attended the annual training weekend in Glencoe for dogs to be tested to their limits over nine different courses on rugged terrain.
Phillip Gaskell, secretary to the Search and Rescue Dog Association Scotland (SARDA Scotland), told the Press and Journal: “These dogs are a Mountain Rescue Team in their own right and can make all the difference in a search on the mountain side.”
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Mr Gaskell said he and his own dog Jess, aged eight, saved the life of a missing climber on the hillside a few years ago.
He continued: “We were on Ben Vorlich and it was snowing heavily and very, very cold.
“Jess found the casualty and led myself and the mountain rescue team to where he was – hidden to sight due to the conditions, and he was very cold- we led the man to safety.”
Between now and Sunday, six search dogs and their handlers will undergo an extensive series of tests before qualifying as mountain rescue search dogs.
Dog have been training all year to reach this point. Some are at an early stage, seeking to achieve novice standard, whilst others are on the verge of full qualification.
As we approach our Annual assesment weekend training for all of our dogs and handlers continues.This is a great video…
On average, over the past three years, SARDA Scotland has had 67 call outs each year, averaging at just over one per week.
But with fewer rescue dogs in the pipeline, Mr Gaskell continued: “Dogs save lives. We always need new handlers and owners to come forward. Our numbers of experienced dogs is quite low at the moment.
“We need experienced mountain rescue volunteers who will buy their own dog and commit to training them from a puppy. It is not an easy job – but it is rewarding.
“The assessment is a severe test for handlers and their dogs.
“For those who are successful, it’s recognition of their team work and of the hard work they have put in over many hours training across the year.
“They all do a great job but our real heroes are our dogs.”
For those wanting to get involved, Mr Gaskell explained: “ First and foremost, recruits have to be experienced mountain rescuers.”