As winter approaches, during the older months we often hear about the world of the Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland.
Dogs and their handlers are used search for missing persons, and they cover all of Scotland, 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year.
Scottish Field spoke to John Romanes and search and rescue dog Rauour, who have gone looking for missing people in blizzard conditions.
What is the Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland?
It is a charity which trains dogs and their handlers to search for missing persons. Search & Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) Southern Scotland covers the whole of southern Scotland. Dog handling is my retirement project, we are all volunteers and are on call 24/7.
Tell us a bit about your dog Rauour.
He is four, a yellow Labrador who is red coloured, which is where his name comes from; ‘Rauour’ is a corruption of the Icelandic word for ‘red’.
Why did Rauour get a PDSA commendation?
It was an award for a search and rescue we took part in in February 2015 at Innerleithen. It was dark, blizzard conditions, and a woman had been reported missing in thick conifer forest. The Met Office issued an amber warning alert for the area and sure enough conditions did worsen. We knew there was a great degree of seriousness from the description we were given. We knew there was no time at all to be lost and it was a huge area to cover.
The search team had been out on foot. Rauour is an air scenting dog, he runs off lead. He picked up the missing woman’s scent, located her and alerted us. Hypothermia had already begun to set in and the casualty had lost consciousness by the time we found her. It was always going to be very difficult because she had fallen into a hole. The team on foot would have found her, but it would have taken more time. The beauty of the dogs is that they can cover more ground more quickly.
How did it make you feel knowing you had had a hand in saving a life?
There are just no words to describe the feeling when your dog comes back and takes you in, and you’ve saved somebody there. It’s just a game to the dog. The whole team came in; it was a major effort with Tweed Valley Mountain Rescue and the Police, while the Royal Navy were on hand with the helicopter. Everything went like clockwork; we were just part of what was going on that night.
What training is involved?
It’s essential that Rauour knows that it is a game for him, so that he wants to do it. We start by doing runaways where somebody runs in front of him with his toy and he goes for the toy. Then I have another toy and I get him to come back to me for that toy, and we build on that sequence. We build the distance up until we get to such a time that the dog looks for a person hiding in the undergrowth.
Training can take 18 months to two years, and starts at six months, with the emphasis on making it good fun for the dog. Vitally, we could never do this without the help of our volunteer ‘bodies’ who give up their time, and come out and lie in the heather in all weathers for us so that we can train.
What makes a good rescue dog?
Any working breed, but usually, collies, Labradors, German shepherds. You’re looking for a dog with a good temperament and who is people friendly.
Find our more at www.sarda-scotland.org.
This feature originally appeared in our August 2016 edition.