29 Oct 2012

Photos and Article by Tennille Barber

This time of year everyone gets so stoked for playing in the mountains that some forget that you can get into some serious situations out there.  Considering this, I thought it would be pertinent to share some articles on safety.  I asked 18 year veteran of gnarly Troy Leahey to spend some time with me on a Saturday morning while he and 4 of his associates trained with their rescue dogs.  Troy and Penny, Meghan Tabor and Eddy, Lise Tataryn and Jack, Jamie McCafferty and Jake, and Allan Denis with Chester all gathered at the Day Lodge at RMR to do some search training, like they do every week.  Some of these dogs not only help during an avalanche but work with the RCMP to track people who are lost.  For example, an Alzheimer’s patient who walks away (it happens!).  Some people such as Lise, who doesn’t ski, train all year round and search in the summer.  I had the honor of watching and participating in the search.  For those of you that don’t know, it’s a very liberating thing to be able to let loose when the search dog finds you!  You have to make a HUGE deal out of it to let them know they have accomplished something amazing!  Ah, a dog’s life!  Usually so simple, however when these dogs put their vests on, it’s all business for both dog and owner.

From left: Meghan Tabor & Eddy, Jamie McCafferty & Jake, Lise Tataryn & Jack, Allan Denis & Chester, Troy Leahey & Penny

Each dog hopped from their vehicle, on leash ready to train, more than eager to do so.  All lined up, they weaved amongst each other to practice attention on the owner.  I can only assume this helps introduce them into the headspace needed to begin the search.  Preparing for the search, all the dogs are put into their respective vehicles by their handlers, who then hide scented articles of clothing for the dogs to track.  Knowing they were about to go to work, they all howled and carried on in anticipation of doing what they love to do.

Troy Leahey and Penny- attention all focused on the handler

We split into two groups, and as Troy and I hid articles, he told me about Penny.  She is a 2.5 year golden retriever/yellow lab that he found on Kijiji in Cranbrook. He’s been training her since she was 3 months old. He thought she was a good choice, labs being especially good for hunting and having good attention span as well as good relationships with people.  The mixes he says, tend to be healthier, and thank goodness, we want Penny to live a long long life!  Some may have a predisposed notion that all search dogs are german shepards.  Not so!  Each dog was a different breed… blends of the most obedient and focused hunting-type dogs out there.

Troy and Penny – the way they praise is by playing tug of war

We tied two of the articles to some small trees in different locations to provide some resistance for when the dogs found them.  Then I hid and waited for Jamie’s dog Jake- a bouncy, stocky chocolate lab, to come find me.  I heard Jamie and Jake find the first article, then the second.  I peeked out from behind the bushes and she rolled on the ground with him as she praised him for finding it!  I knew it was my turn.  As he circled the bush I was in, nose to the ground, he found me crouched.  I quickly jumped up and played tug of war with his favorite article (a ratty blue knotted piece of material about a meter long) and screamed “Good dog!! Who’s a good search dog!?”  Probably the only time I have ever gotten to be a totally loud idiot in public is when I have helped my friends with their search dogs.  I love doing it.  I had tried to record him with a go pro, but I am go pro impaired 🙁

Each team took turns doing a stay until commanded to heel up

This week I will try to touch on different aspects of safety with more of Troy’s input to come.  Thank you to the search group for having me, it was my pleasure and I hope to see you again running on the slopes of RMR soon, but definitely not in the backcountry unexpectedly!  Getting Rad is awesome, however, not so rad that one of these lovely mutts and their dedicated handlers have to come dig you out of a hole.  Please play safe Revelstoke!