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"A PERSON THAT SAVED AT LEAST ONE LIFE WAS NOT BORN FOR NOTHING"

Search and rescue dogs – our partners

TEN COMMANDMENTS

DOG – MY PARTNER AND FRIEND

If only we could understand what dogs want to tell us, those would definitely be the rules proposed by them:

  1. I'm your friend so, please, have time for me.
  2. I want to know that you love me, although you don't need to pamper me.
  3. I definitely prefer awards to punishments, but I don't mind being scolded if I know I did something wrong.
  4. When you take care of me don't treat me as an object. I'm not a piano, I'm your partner.
  5. I don't want to be forced. I prefer to want to do something.
  6. Believe me, I really have a better nose that you do, so trust me when I do my work.
  7. Show approval when I do something right and try hard. If you do, next time I will try even harder and together we will achieve more.
  8. If in the course of training you'll be merciless or cruel and you'll hurry too much, sooner or later you'll lose.
  9. You'll be able to do with me whatever you want, but only on condition that I trust you completely and believe that you are a good person.
  10. The goals that we aim at should be achievable.

That's what the mountain rescuers – handlers of dogs have heard on a Christmas Eve, when animals traditionally start to talk...

A BIT OF HISTORY

The mountain search and rescue in Europe is already 1000 years old. A few surviving documents mention a man from Menthon in the Aosta Valley, who funded two monasteries in the Alps and gave them to the Augustinians (himself he also became one of them and took the name Bernard). The monastic rule obliged the monks to give shelter to exhausted travellers, to search for people lost in the mountains and help them, and to guide them safely through the alpine passes and into the valleys. One might say that those monasteries, built on the most travelled passes, were the prototype of present-day mountain shelters and that the monks were the forerunners of present-day mountain rescuers and guides.

The Prior of those monasteries – Father Bernard, the creator of this first mountain rescue in the Alps was canonised in 1923 and became the patron saint of mountaineers and mountain rescuers. The two passes where the monasteries had been built were called Col du Petit Saint Bernard (2158 metres above sea level) and Col du Grand Saint Bernard (2469 metres above sea level), which means the Little and the Great Pass of St. Bernard.

It is worth remembering that the first Europeans to use dogs not only for hunting or guarding, but for search and rescue in the mountains were the Augustinians from the St. Bernard Pass.

Most probably the dogs used there at the beginning were the Alpine Mastiffs that in result of crossbreed with Newfoundlands gave rise to a new breed with long, thick, three-coloured fur. Those dogs were trained to dig up people from under the snow and to search for missing travellers. They would be let out in a most awful weather, in fog and snowstorms, with a brandy barrel around their neck and a harness with a basket with food and a blanket. If such a dog managed to get to an exhausted traveller, it gave him or her the chance to survive...

The most famous of those dogs was Barry, who reportedly saved somewhere between 40 and 100 lives in the Alps. Unfortunately, as a result of misunderstanding it was killed, but its body can still be seen in the Natural History Museum in Berne.


Today the breed that is most used in mountain rescue all around the world are German Shepherds (usually the long-hair ones). There are very intelligent, they cooperate well with rescuers and are adjusted to working in bad weather conditions.

But still, the dogs from the St Bernard Pass are the ones that symbolise animals' devotion to humans...

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Surprisingly, despite all the dynamic development and technological innovations, even the rich countries (such as USA, Canada, Germany of Switzerland) that can afford the state-of-art search equipment, still train search and rescue dogs, just as it was done centuries ago.

Why?

Because no one invented a better detector than a dog's nose!

That's why Polish Search and Rescue Groups have been employing search and rescue dogs for the last 50 years. Those dogs are trained in searching for people in the avalanches, in ruins and in the open areas.

Each group of Mountain Rescuers has got a few such dogs. For example the Jura Group of Mountain Rescue has got 8 search and rescue dogs that are always ready to act.

Search and rescue dogs are always well selected. They have to be strong and tough as well as brave, but not aggressive. Apart from searching, they have to be prepared to travel with their handler on a snowmobile or quad, to slide down a rope from a helicopter.