Mar 06 2013

Avalanche Dogs, A Buried Man’s Best Friend!

As many of you know, I love to ski and each year I look forward to my annual conference with the Sierra Veterinary Medical Association.  Aside from great skiing and veterinary camaraderie, we also have phenomenal continuing education.  This year, in addition to our medical CE, we had a talk and demonstration by the director of the Snowbird avalanche dog team.  These dogs, and their handlers, are true heroes and they work closely with each other to detect the presence of people trapped under many feet of snow.  The majority of these dogs are labrador retrievers.  There are also many shepherds and, I was surprised to learn, there have even been some standard poodles, like my pooch, Fiyera.  These dogs are trained from the time they are puppies to use their noses to key in on the human scent.  Their reward?  Usually just a chance to play their favorite game of tug-of-war with their handlers.  It was great to watch one of these dogs work in our demonstration.  A ski patrolman was buried in a snow cave ahead of time and the search was on!  Although this dog’s work was serious and his methods were well trained, he looked like he was just having fun. But hey….who doesn’t like to play hide and seek?  Our demonstration was in the area around the base of the ski resort.  Usually their “office” is a remote, unstable, ice and debris filled slope accessable only by helicopter. They might be searching for one victim or there could be a dozen. With each passing minute, the chance of finding the victim alive diminishes.  Having been a skier my whole life and having skiied in some remote mountains, I am glad I got to see one of these dogs work.  I’m just glad I was watching a demonstration and not waiting for one to find me buried under the snow! Dr. Kaufman

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