Search and Rescue dogs have key role worldwide

911 dog

There seems to be a sizeable portion of the readers of this blog who take more than a passing interest in the lifesaving activities of mountain rescue teams and another group of people who love to read about dogs and other animals.

Well, today’s blog should satisfy them all as it is all about search and rescue dogs.

These are known throughout the world for their work in finding missing people or those buried by masses of avalanche snow or rubble from collapsed buildings. They always seem to be at the heart of post-earthquake searches and were an important part of the search operation at Ground Zero, in the wake of the 9/11 Twin Towers disaster in New York.

This year, 13 years after that terrible time, golden retriever Bretagne, the last surviving rescue dog who searched Ground Zero after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, revisited the scene.

In September, aged nearly 16 and enjoying her retirement, Bretagne returned to the Manhattan site for the first time since 2001, accompanied by Denise Corliss, her longtime handler and owner. They live now, as then, in Texas.

Nearer to my home, if a search dog is needed then police or rescue teams call upon the services of members and dogs of SARDA, the Search and Rescue Dogs Association.

helencluanieSARDA Wales is a specialist Search Dog component of Mountain Rescue (England and Wales) and are permanently staffed by unpaid volunteer dog handlers and their dogs to provide a search and rescue service to the Police, Mountain Rescue & Coastguard.

Dogs are trained in specialist skills including air scenting and trailing dogs to search for missing people in mountain, rural and urban locations. The association has 80-90 call outs each year in North Wales including missing children, vulnerable adults, dementia patients as well as hill walkers and mountaineers. Handlers and dogs are on call 365 days per year in any weather.

There is no doubt that handlers love their dogs and are united by a willingness to go out in any weather at any time of day to search for missing people anywhere in North Wales and occasionally beyond. Many SARDA Wales handlers are also members of Mountain Rescue teams. The three nearest me, Llanberis, Ogwen Valley and Aberglaslyn teams, have SARDA handlers and dogs in their organisations.

It takes many hours of commitment to train a search dog and it’s a continual process throughout each dog’s working career with the dogs and handlers regularly being assessed to ensure that they maintain the higantmossh standards for which they have come to be well-known.

Every mountain dog handler is an accomplished climber and mountaineer in their own right in summer and winter conditions, as well as being a member of a Mountain Rescue Team. Mountain dog teams are assessed at lowland standard first and then go on to be assessed at mountain level. Skills include avalanche searches and every handler is equipped to be self-sufficient in all weathers and conditions. Handlers play key roles in their own rescue teams as well as being available as a dog team to every other rescue team in North Wales.

All SARDA air scenting dog teams train as lowland search teams. They are trained and assessed to cover open areas, buildings, woodland, sand dunes and caravan parks and this type of work forms the majority of call outs. Lowland areas can be extremely complex to search and require a great deal of skill from both dog and handler. There are often many distractions and the dog will often be working out of sight in complex ground.

The trailing dogs can follow a scent of a specific person from the point that they were last seen. They can work in almost any area from urban to mountain and are trained to ignore other scents to find only the person for whom they are looking.

Running SARDA and its training and assessment operations is not cheap. As I have said, they are all volunteers, all unpaid, and they rely entirely on donations to fund the association.

salspinTo give you an idea of the costs involved, here is a summary of its main expenditure items: Assessment Weekend – Cost £2000; Training Weekend with accommodation and catering – £750; Equip a new dog team – £2000; Search Managers Lap Top with software – £1000; Re-equip an existing dog team with new waterproofs – £500; Cover a dog teams motor expenses for a year – £300; and cover a search dogs annual pet insurance – £300.

In total, SARDA Wales’s annual running costs average about £20,000 and its only income is from public donations.

If you’d like to make a donation, you can do so online by following this link or use your mobile phone (cellphone)  to text SDOG01 £5 to 70070 to donate (of course, you can change the amount)

Practical support is also welcome. Volunteers are needed as ‘Dogsbodies’ and to help with catering at training/assessment weekends.

Dogsbodies are vital as without bodies to find the dogs cannot train. Volunteer Dogsbodies will get a friendly welcome, free food and accommodation in North Wales for the weekend and join the team as a valued member.

Some important qualities are: You must like dogs and be happy to get wet and slobbered on! Must have a sense of humour and be prepared to hide in obscure places in all weathers. Lastly, you must be happy to take instructions.

Anyone interested should email info@sardawales.org.uk for further details.

 

Pictures, from top:

Bretagne, 9/11 search dog, now retired

Helen with Cluanie, Llanberis MRT

Antony with Moss, Aberglaslyn MRT

Sally with Spin, Ogwen Valley MRT

Advertisement

Guide Dogs Week – still time for your support

guide dog

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guide Dogs are valued around the world. This one is working in Brazil.

GUIDE DOGS Week, halfway through

Service or assistance dogs, those wonderfully intelligent and friendly creatures, are known throughout the world for their dedication to their owners. They can be hearing dogs, guide dogs or provide another form of invaluable help.

Well, today (Wednesday) is the halfway point of Guide Dogs Week in the UK and it runs until the 11th. The Guide Dogs for the Blind charity is encouraging people to Stand Out for Guide Dogs, part of which is to take a photograph of yourself highlighted in neon paint. It is fun and looks impressive.

The charity says: “We will not rest until people who are blind or partially sighted can enjoy the same freedom of movement as everyone else.

“Every hour another person in the UK goes blind. We need your help to make sure that when someone loses their sight they don’t lose their freedom as well.”

During Guide Dogs Week you can help change more lives and create more partnerships. I urge you to do all that you can to help this great cause.

Many years ago, I was a member of a young men’s service organisation called Round Table. Our chosen charity that year was the Guide Dogs and through effort and determination we raised enough to pay for the training of a dog.

A few years later, I found myself volunteering as an adult leader in the Scouts. Our cub pack was raising money for the same charity and was successful enough to be able to choose a name for a dog. We held our meetings in the church hall, so we named her after the saint of the church.

In the last couple of weeks, twice these fantastic animals have caused me to think of their bravery and commitment to the task they have been expertly trained to carry out.

The first was an incident in which a taxi driver reversed his vehicle onto a pavement (sidewalk in the US) and into a young, newly trained guide dog and her owner. The fact that the pavement was in use seemed not to bother him and the car did not stop until the blind man realised what was happening and tapped on it with his cane.

Police were called but no action is being taken against the driver who has said he is going to claim damages from the blind person for denting the taxi. That is ridiculous, isn’t it? Luckily, the dog only suffered bruising but we don’t yet know if her training will be enough to overcome the shock of the incident.

The second dog is Lara, a yellow Labrador. After just four years’ service, she has been found to be suffering from a birth defect that could not be discovered at an early stage and so she needs help. Her female owner decided to retire her in March this year and, speaking to her just the other day, I asked when she can get a new guide dog. I thought that she would have a new guide living alongside the retired one.

lara2In fact, she won’t have another guide dog while Lara is still with her. Her words brought tears to my eyes.

“My mobility had to come second to her needs.. I am waiting until Lara is no longer with us, wouldn’t be fair, she has a lot of needs so she has to come first.

“I wouldn’t have had it any other way, she took care of me for nearly four years, kept me safe. Now it’s my turn to take care of her and give her the best life I can with the huge restrictions she has. Sadly her working life was very short, she was an amazing guide dog, so intelligent she qualified early, best in her year. She’s a very spoilt lady now!”

And repaying Lara’s dedication and service with such love means that this woman is once again getting about using a white cane.

Such a two-way bond of love and trust is just beyond words.

 

Retired Guide Dog Lara enjoying the sofa.

 

  • You can find Lara’s owner on Twitter @barefoot&paws

 

 

 

 

In need of love and a safe home

roy-collie-640x640

Like many other people who find themselves honoured in some way for their good works, Anne Owen said that being appointed an MBE in the UK’s 2015 New Year Honours was not just for her but also for her family and friends.

You often hear award recipients say that. They say it is as much for their team as themselves and, to a certain extent, it is true. There is no doubt that without close support the individuals concerned could not have achieved so much – but the award recipients are the really worthy ones.

Anne was appointed as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (MBE) for services to animal health and welfare. anne-owen-380x502

She set up the North Clwyd Animal Rescue Centre in 1978 after she took in a stray dog. It is now the largest animal charity in North Wales (that’s in the UK, not the North Wales in Pennsylvania), rescuing more than 1,800 unwanted cats and dogs a year.

Reacting to her award, Anne said that she was really shocked and explained: “It’s not something I really think about, you just get on with life.”

Modestly, she added: “It’s nice that your work is recognised. It’s not just me, it’s my family and friends too.” True – and I’d add the animals too.

Of course, North Clwyd Animal Rescue is just one of numerous pets rescue organisations in various countries. And whether these are run by volunteers or larger charities with paid staff, volunteers are always welcome – as are people willing to give a pet a home.

I must admit to having a soft spot for the North Clwyd rescue centre as one day my then wife and I happened to meet volunteers with an exhibition stand in a local shopping centre. They also had a couple of dogs with them, dogs looking for their forever homes. Well, we fell in love with a large male border collie whose original name I now forget but we renamed him ‘Bryn’. We were even allowed to take him for a short walk. It was a match, we wanted him as much as he wanted a home and caring owners.

Of course, there was paperwork to be completed as well as a home check to be undertaken by the rescuers but within a few weeks, Bryn was with us. He was a softee and, at night, had to sleep in his basket in our bedroom. During the daytime he had a second basket downstairs but also had the freedom to run and play in our fields. He enjoyed a full and active life for many years until it was time for him to leave us. He was buried in one of our fields that he loved so much.

With Bryn as an inspiration, from that moment on our home was never without at least one rescue dog. At one time we had six.

So, if you would like a pet of your own, please don’t buy one without at least considering sharing your home with one that has needed the help of rescuers. They have a lot of love to give and in return just need your love and a forever home.

  • To contact North Clwyd Animal Rescue, you’ll find the website at: www.ncar.co.uk; on Twitter at @ncaruk; or on Facebook as NorthClwydAnimalRescue.
  • To find an animal rescue centre near you, just Google ‘animal rescue’ and your town’s name.

North Wales MS charity set for year ahead

Future plans and activities for MS Synergy were decided by members at the annual general meeting held alongside its September monthly gathering earlier this week.

MS Synergy is North Wales’s own independent support group charity for people with multiple sclerosis and those affected by it, such as relatives, carers, friends or anyone with any kind of interest in the illness.

At the AGM, held at Prestatyn’s Paanshee Bangladeshi Restaurant on Tuesday 15th, members approved the annual report, adopted the accounts and took important decisions about future administration and organisation. These were finalised by making some minor amendments to the constitution.

After two years as chairman, Nigel Partington had already forewarned us that he had decided it was best for him to stand down. Naturally, everyone was sorry his health had prompted that decision and sent him their best wishes along with their hopes that he would attend future gatherings whenever he felt able.Kathy Ruane

In his place, the group was fortunate to be able to elect two Co-Chairmen. These are Christine Cooper  (below) and Kathleen Ruane (right). Kathy has MS and if her surname sounds familiar, that is probably because her brother is Chris Ruane, former Labour MP for Vale of Clwyd. He served as MP for 18 years before losing his seat at this year’s general election.christine cooper_edited

The role of secretary proved to be a little more difficult to fill but was resolved with the help of some lateral thinking and ingenuity. I have been secretary for the last two years but moving to Spain in November meant that MS Synergy needed a new secretary – or did it?

With no-one putting themselves forward, the meeting decided to re-elect me (below left) as secretary to do from Spain everything that I had always done on computer in Colwyn Bay. Let’s face it, that can be done anywhere in the world with access to the internet. The one important part of the work that needs a hands-on presence in North Wales, the organisationian gravatar_edited of the monthly meetings or ‘gatherings’, was given to another committee member.

Former long-term group organiser and, for the past two years, gwawr_editedtreasurer, Gwawr Jones (below centre), was re-elected to look after the finances while Eryl Thomas (below right) Eryl Thomas_editedjoined the committee as Gatherings Coordinator.

Three remaining committee member roles were left unfilled, allowing the committee to co-opt people in the future.

With me going to be many miles away, members agreed that future general meetings and committee meetings should include a free computer-to-computer video link to make it possible and feasible for me to take an active part and to take minutes. Isn’t modern computer technology wonderful?

One last piece of re-organisation agreed by the AGM was in regard to bank payments and withdrawals. The previous constitutional requirement was for each cheque to bear two signatures from any of the three officers. An amendment passed on the night now requires two signatures from any of the officers and committee members resident in the UK. That will make the treasurer’s work a lot easier.

  • MS Synergy is a ‘local small charity’ as defined by the Charities Act. As such, it is only allowed to raise up to £5,000 a year.

 

 

 

Hero volunteers need support

Llanberis MR team

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Llanberis Mountain Rescue Team using stretcher to remove casualty to safety.

Everybody has their own ideas about what makes someone a hero and, of course I have tremendous respect for everyone doing difficult and often dangerous jobs in the armed forces and the main emergency services – police, firefighters, ambulance crews and coastguards.

They key word there, though, is ‘job’; they are being paid to do that, although that makes it no less dangerous and often they go above and beyond what duty demands.

Similarly, I am not wishing to underplay the importance of once in a lifetime acts of heroism by anybody faced with a difficult situation and attempting to save the day. Each such act, though, is very much a one-off.

The people who I admire and feel deserve greater recognition for their dedication, commitment and heroic actions in all sorts of often atrocious weather conditions are the members of our mountain rescue teams as well as the crews of the lifeboats that dot the shores of the UK.

These people are all volunteers. Climbers who have decided to help others and seafaring folk who have chosen to put other peoples’ lives first at sea.

Fairly close to where I currently live, there are two superbly run teams of mountain rescuers: Llanberis and Ogwen Valley. There are plenty more but I got to know some of the members of these over the last 20-plus years. In fact, so long has it been that the ones I knew have probably all retired by now.

Anyway, to cut a long story down a bit, Llanberis Mountain Rescue team, whose patch includes Snowdon itself, have just dealt with the busiest month in their long history. They were called out an amazing 34 times in August, with the most hectic day being Wednesday 12th. This involved responding to seven call-outs in just five hours. And as most rescues can take a few hours, they often had to have more than one rescue team out at the same time.

Chairman of the Llanberis team is Rob Johnson said: “More than half of the 34 incidents that we were called to in August were as a result of people being lost on the mountain. With a little preparation this is not necessary.

“People often treat Snowdon as a tourist destination, rather than a mountain, and this leads people into being poorly equipped for the conditions the mountain often presents. Having a map and a compass and the knowledge of how to use them costs very little but will massively add to the enjoyment of a mountain day and will take a great strain off volunteer rescue services.”

The problem seems to be that Snowdon has a railway linking Llanberis with the summit where, during the summer tourist season, the building is open and houses a café, bar, gift shop and other facilities. It is easy to see how people do get the ‘tourist attraction’ impression.

Actually, I must share this true story with you. Before I was diagnosed with MS and at a time I could still get around easily, I loved to go mountain walking. Well, this day I had walked up to the top of Snowdon and after getting my fill of great views in all directions (not possible when the clouds roll in), I decided to enjoy a cuppa before starting the descent. No sooner had I sat down in the café than a trainload of tourists arrived. One woman spotted a dog and said if she had known dogs were allowed, she’d have brought her beloved pet with her.

I am afraid that I could not help myself. “Madam,” I said,sarda dog “That is a Search and Rescue dog.”

She was surprised and said, “Do people get lost up here then?” She had no idea how dangerous Snowdon and the other mountains are. “Madam, people die up here,” I replied.

                                       Search and Rescue Dog ready for action.

 

♦ Finally, I am sad to report that all three of the Llanberis team vehicles were disabled during an attempted theft of their doors. The would-be thieves also cut through wiring in an attempt to disable the alarms.

Llanberis MR team vandalised

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Team vehicles with doors removed and wiring cut.

 

Police are investigating and the team is having to rely on neighbouring teams for vehicles as Llanberis team has been left unable to deploy team members or equipment.

Since posting about their loss on Facebook, the team has received a great level of support with many people asking how they can donate. If you would like to help these brave volunteers get back on the road, you can donate by visiting the donation page of the team’s website here: http://www.llanberismountainrescue.co.uk/donate

You can also donate via text, by sending a message to 70070 and writing: “LMRT14” followed by the amount you’d like to donate e.g. “£5” or “£10”. I know they would be thankful for any donation, however small.

MS Synergy Independent Support Group looks to the future

Scan_mss poster

My beloved Lisa and I were out and about last night We weren’t exactly painting the town red but were attending the monthly social get-together of MS Synergy – our local support group for people who have MS, their families, carers and friends.

The group will be two years old next month, having split from the MS Society in September 2013 following abortive discussions about our desire, indeed our need, to have more of a say about our affairs without interference from the local area branch. When faced with an immovable object that absolutely refused to allow the group to operate free of branch controls but still as part of  the society, everyone involved in the support group decided unanimously to change our status to that of an independent support group.

Since then, the group has flourished. It is now a ‘small charity’ as defined by the Charities Act, the UK law that governs charities in the UK, it has its own health & safety policy including a laid-down risk assessment procedure, holds fundraising activities and is about to publish its second Annual Report.

In the year ahead, there are a couple of potholes in the road to continuing development. The first is that our chairman’s MS has caused his health to deteriorate to such an extent that he feels unable to continue in office; and the second is that Lisa and I are moving to Spain in November. In fact we are leaving on 26th October and going on a holiday to the USA before arriving at our new home.

With Nigel not standing for re-election as chairman and our departure to Spain (I am secretary and Lisa is a committee member), the charity has to look to other members to take on more responsibility. At last night’s social event, we discussed the issue prior to next month’s AGM and the outcome looks encouraging.

One member had already been asked to agree to stand for the role of chairman but she has not, so far, been very keen as she has a lot to cope with personally. She has MS, has three children of her own and two adopted children – quite a commitment. But, last night, another member said that she would be willing to be chairman. So, we were off to a promising start.

Organising the monthly gatherings, which is what we call our get-togethers, including booking the venues and sending out emails or text messages to our members and supporters, has been part of the secretary’s duties but we now have another member who is willing to join the committee and act as ‘gatherings coordinator’. Excellent. Although now retired, her experience as a solicitor may also be useful.

The biggest problem appears to be finding someone to replace me as secretary because no-one seems willing to undertake the role. After our discussion last night, however, we may have found a way through but it will be up to the AGM to decide.

When I detailed the duties our secretary needs to undertake, it became fairly obvious that in today’s electronic world most can be completed anywhere. Rather like working from home instead of commuting to an office. They could, we decided, be carried out as easily in Spain as in Colwyn Bay.

If that is the way that the AGM decides to go and I stay as secretary despite being in Spain, the secretary will not be attending committee meetings or future general meetings in person – but I could be there on a video link using the free Skype system. Of course, there would be a few other small points to clear up but, on the whole, last night the consensus was that we could make it work.

It may not be easy but what is a problem if not a challenge to be overcome?

Charity event in August, seaside resort in UK = clouds and rain

Just got back home from taking part in our last sponsored fundraising event before we move to Spain. Not the last event, just the last sponsored one.

This morning MS Synergy held its ‘wheel and walk’ on Llandudno promenade and the good news is that there was a pretty good turnout of walkers as well as those of us unable to walk very far and being pushed in wheelchairs. The number taking part this year was more than four times greater than last year.

Apart from raising money through sponsorship, we also took the opportunity to accept donations from people we met on the prom. I will let you know how much we raised as soon as I know.

Talking of a walk on the prom in a seaside resort town in August, it would be reasonable for you to think that we would have been blessed with sunshine and blue skies – but, sadly, this was not the case.

As is usual in the UK, the morning was heavily overcast but at least it was not windy. However, it did start to rain just as we were finishing.

The British weather was, in fact, the major factor in Lisa’s and my decision to move to Spain.

We are so fed up with rain, rain and more rain with only a rare appearance of any sunshine that we are moving to a place that has sunshine for at least 300 days a year. As for rain, where we are going, December is one of the wettest months of the year when rainfall averages just over 35 mm. And that works out at just over one mm a day. Colwyn Bay, on the other hand, has nearly 131mm in December while even its driest month, June, has almost 53mm. (All figures taken from World Weather Online statistics publicly available on the internet).

I think that the differences speak for themselves.

Although we are heading for the sun, rest assured that we are not doing so without regard to our health. We are both conscious of the damage UV can do to our skin and are fully prepared to take every precaution. Lisa, whose blood is half Sicilian, has a Mediterranean skin and she is used to the sun as, before coming to the UK, she had lived in Florida for 18 years.

By contrast, I am fair-skinned and burn more easily than I tan so sunblock will need to play a major part in my life. That goes for insect repellent as well because I was bitten a few times when Lisa and I visited the area in May but then I was not wearing any repellent.

You live and learn.