Avalanche Rescue Dogs

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Doggone they’re good!

Just watched Explore.com’s Adrenaline Junkie series about avalanches and the dogs were stars. I’ve never had the misfortune of being trapped in a real avalanche, but I have met a few stellar avalanche rescue dogs over the years.

Foster was a 1-½ year-old trainee in the two-year training and certification process required to become a member of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA). I was the willing victim in a mock avalanche, buried with a radio in a small snow cave.

It was cramped, the air turned stale and my heartrate started to climb. What seemed like an hour, but was less 10 minutes later, I could hear Foster tearing at the snow outside my wintery tomb.

Within seconds I was less concerned with being buried than I was with the fact that Foster’s teeth were mighty large and he was pretty excited! This training exercise was just one of the hundreds these dogs go through in course of their career – and it pays off.

In 2000, I interviewed Keno. He was the strong, silent type, but with the help of his human partner and the avalanche victim whose life he saved, I learned more of his talent (article appeared in Reader’s Digest Canada, March 2002).

An avalanche had trapped a ski hill employee not wearing an avalanche transceiver. The clock was counting down. Keno was brought to the site and went to work, sniffing probe pole holes for human scent. With the clock ticking perilously close to a half hour of burial – where survival chances diminish – Keno found a buried glove and the team saved the buried worker.  It was the first live recovery of an avalanche victim by a trained rescue dog in Canada. Way to go Keno!

For more details on training rescue dogs, check out CARDA or SARDUS (Search and Rescue Dogs of the United States). For more info on avalanches, check out my previous post.


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