Thursday, February 25, 2010
By Suzanne Alicie
The CANIDAE dog sponsorship program began in 2006 as a way to support extraordinary dogs and the people who love them. Among the many canines chosen for sponsorship are teams who participate in dog sports, therapy dogs, K-9 units, assistance dogs and rescue dogs. These dogs are all fed CANIDAE products to provide them with the energy, strength and nutrition required for their demanding jobs.
One of these CANIDAE-sponsored special achievers is Scout, a Chocolate Labrador retriever who works for Copper Mountain as a Certified Avalanche Rescue Dog. His handler, Rich Silkey CMSP, took time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions for me about Scout and the job they do together at Copper Mountain Resort in Colorado. What an eye opener it was to learn about this dog and his amazing job.
Rich is not just Scout’s handler, he is his owner. Many places have rescue dogs that are owned by a resort or company and live on site. Scout, however, is a hard working dog that gets to go home at night. Socializing is a big part of Scout’s job. On a typical day, which means a day that an avalanche doesn’t occur, Scout enjoys riding up to the duty station on the chair lift, sleeping in the duty station, patrolling with Rich and interacting with the guests. But don’t assume he’s a lazy dog sleeping the day away. The playful and friendly Scout gets a lot of exercise playing with the kids from ski school when he’s not busy. Sounds like a tough job huh?
Well, when an avalanche happens Scout is all business. He began his training at 8 weeks old. Now at almost 4 years old Scout is a certified and professional avalanche rescue dog who knows when it is time to stop playing and start working. Labradors aren’t the only breed suitable for avalanche rescue. Copper Mountain utilizes 6 avalanche rescue dogs that rotate through each week, including Border Collies, Australian Shepherds and German Shepherds. However, Rich selected a Labrador to train as an avalanche rescue dog and as a pet because of the breed’s agility, work ethic, stamina, loyalty and excellent nose.
Unlike dogs who trail or track a specific person or scent, avalanche rescue dogs are trained to air scent for humans, in and under the snow. Victims buried in the snow as a result of an avalanche are just one type of snow rescue. Youth and elderly that have fallen due to injury or hypothermia can become covered by snowfall. Even a healthy well-prepared hiker or skier who holes up in a snow cave after having become lost or exhausted is another type of rescue for an avalanche rescue dog. Because once a person becomes buried, detection by the naked eye is impossible.
These awe inspiring rescue dogs can detect the human scent more than 15 feet deep. Dogs can cover the dangerous terrain of an avalanche area approximately 8 times faster than a human. This means that Scout is usually the first on the scene and helps make sure that people get rescued in time thanks to his wonderful nose and excellent training.
According to Mr. Silkey, Scout performs his task of air scenting to locate a buried person and does an aggressive double paw dig as an alert. But he doesn’t stop there; Scout continues digging and sometimes has the avalanche victim dug out before his human backup arrives. For performing his job so well, Scout gets to enjoy a good game of tug-of-war with his favorite toy.
To make sure that Scout and the other dogs stay on task and don’t forget valuable training, the crew does a mock search once a week to help them stay sharp and practice their skills. Helping teach and lead younger dogs like the two new dogs that are just beginning their training also keeps Scout and the other avalanche rescue dogs at Copper Mountain on top of their game.
Due to the rigors of their job, the cold and unyielding snow and the pressures of the searches, avalanche rescue dogs usually work until they are between 7 and 12 years of age. CANIDAE dog food helps provide the extra nutrition and energy these dogs need to stay healthy and happy from the beginning of their hard working lives through their retirement and lazy days.
The CANIDAE team is proud to sponsor Scout as he goes about the business of saving lives with his partner Rich in the cold and snow at Copper Mountain.
Read more articles by Suzanne Alicie