Home Magazine

Digging His Job: Lost Trail Avalanche Rescue Dog at the Ready

By David13676 @dogspired

Digging his job: Lost Trail avalanche rescue dog at the readyThe sight of a happy black furry dog bounding off the chairlift and racing down the slopes of Lost Trail Powder Mountain, laden with carabiners and sporting a dusting of snow on his snout, still raises a few eyebrows these days.

But he’s become a mainstay on the mountain to most of the regulars by now.

And if anyone in the popular area is ever buried by an avalanche, his happy face might be the first thing they see.

River, a 5-year-old border collie/terrier mutt, is the first and only certified avalanche search and rescue dog employed by the ski area south of Darby. Actually, he works for dog food and attention, but his trainer and loving owner is Sarah Cathcart, who was hired by the Lost Trail Ski Patrol in January.

Now Cathcart and River patrol the hill regularly and are ready at a moment’s notice, using the canine’s powerful sense of smell and digging ability, to find anyone buried by a slide and rescue them within minutes.

To be certified, Cathcart and River completed the Wasatch Backcountry International Rescue Dog School in Utah last year, which she said was an adrenaline-packed experience.

“It took six days, and they tested our dogs in really extreme circumstances,” Cathcart explained. “For the final test, they load you onto a helicopter while it is still running and drop you off in the slide country. They have an avalanche scene set up, and your dog has to rescue a person ‘buried’ in a snow cave under real-life conditions. And then you are required to hike back out.”

Cathcart said organizers had set up the snow cave beforehand, and River had to go into the hole and play with the person to pass the test.

“He develops what we call victim loyalty,” she said. “He’s been training since he was 1 year old. He has learned that finding people buried in snow means he gets to play. You know when he finds someone because he starts digging furiously. You see a huge rooster tail of snow coming out behind him. He is actually taught to grab an article of clothing and drag them out, too.”

Dogs are the superheroes of avalanche search and rescue because time is of the essence.

“There is what we call a golden 15 minutes in order to find someone lost in an avalanche,” Cathcart said. “Within that time, you have a 94 percent chance of living, as long as you didn’t have an injury from trauma, like hitting a tree on the way down. When people are buried by snow, they die of CO2 asphyxiation, not the lack of oxygen.”

Cathcart said the test is meant to be as realistic as possible.

“When I got off the helicopter, a person approached me and said, ‘There’s been an avalanche,’ ” she recalled. “I said, ‘Ok, take me to the avalanche,’ then I send my dog out. I just follow my dog. The No. 1 mistake trainers make is thinking too much. You are supposed to follow the dog. You learn to read him. I’ve been learning to read his body language. You have to spend time learning their behavior. Some people know because the dog’s tail will make really big circles. River doesn’t bark, but he’ll dig in the snow.”

The test area is 100 yards square, and the first test requires only finding one person. The second level requires finding two different people, as would be common in many avalanches.

She said River is built to be an avalanche rescue dog.

“The ideal dog for avalanche work is something with a really thick coat, like goldens or Labs,” she said. “German shepherds are good. A typical breed is a border collie. They are pretty good across the board as far as a search and rescue breed. Terriers go to the ground, because they are ratters. They hunt rats and squirrels, historically. Essentially what I’m asking my dog to do is find his prey and dig a hole, so a terrier makes a great avalanche dog.”

Cathcart has a degree in outdoor recreation from Idaho State University. She said she was one of the few females who took the avalanche dog course and the only snowboarder.

“It was pretty intense,” she said. “I was scared a lot. The most intimidating thing is being a boarder and one of the few females. I didn’t have a purebred dog like some of the other people either.”

As for getting on the chairlift, River seems as comfortable as any skier as he hangs two paws off the front of the chair.

“He shook the first time he rode one, but he’s fine now,” Cathcart said. “I get nervous when he sees a squirrel. I don’t think he would ever jump, but I still hold him and shout ‘don’t even think about it’ at him.”

Originally from Los Angeles, Cathcart said she couldn’t be happier to be working for the Lost Trail Ski Patrol.

“I love it here,” she said.

~ Courtesy of The Montana Standard

Tags: avalanche dog, search and rescue, search dog


You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • How To Style Your Shorts in 10 Unique Ways

    Style Your Shorts Unique Ways

    Summers are here and they are in full swing, all we want to do is chill by the beach side. While all of us can’t hit the beach, yet we can definitely bring beac... Read more

    10 hours, 50 minutes ago by   Dreamtechie
    LIFESTYLE
  • Monday Miscellany: Shoes, Shows And Friends

    Monday Miscellany: Shoes, Shows Friends

    The last several weeks have been such a whirlwind of activity, so this weekend I’ve been giving myself the gift of some “down time.” Playing a bit of catch-up... Read more

    10 hours, 54 minutes ago by   Unefemme
    LIFESTYLE
  • Nine Steps to Using a Paddling Pool

    Nine Steps Using Paddling Pool

    Sometimes, you just gotta cool down. These last few days it's been really quite warm, so we've had the paddling pool out for my son to play in. Read more

    11 hours, 4 minutes ago by   Ravenswingthog
    DIARIES, SELF EXPRESSION
  • Catrice Long-lasting Waterproof Eye Pencil Review

    Catrice Long-lasting Waterproof Pencil Review

    Hey everyone, what’s up? An eye-pencil is a must have in your vanity. That’s why I love trying out new brands every now and then. Today, I’m going to review... Read more

    11 hours, 31 minutes ago by   Jhilmil D Saha
    HAIR & BEAUTY
  • The Edge

    Edge

    While vacationing at an Alaskan lodge during a photo shoot, a pragmatic, solitary billionaire (Anthony Hopkins)--with a steel trap mind when it comes to... Read more

    11 hours, 32 minutes ago by   Kaiser31083
    ENTERTAINMENT, MOVIES
  • Mike Philbin - Art - Twin Towers 1, 2 and 7

    Mike Philbin Twin Towers

    This most-recent tryptich has a title of "Twin Towers 1, 2 and 7", an obvious and unsubtle allusion to a) the twin towers or pillars of freemasonic egyptologica... Read more

    11 hours, 36 minutes ago by   Freeplanet
    DEBATE, SOCIETY
  • Find a Travel Buddy with Ease and Make Solo Traveling Even Better

    Find Travel Buddy with Ease Make Solo Traveling Even Better

    Traveling solo as a woman has so many advantages. You can go where you wish, keep to your own schedule and spend some times really getting to know yourself. Read more

    12 hours, 8 minutes ago by   Poundtravel
    TRAVEL

Magazines