Mountain challenge to help train rescue dogs and handlers

RAF Halton personnel Sergeant Gaz Elliott, who is travelling to Everest base camp, with Squadron Leader Ali Sandeman, and Beau.
RAF Halton personnel Sergeant Gaz Elliott, who is travelling to Everest base camp, with Squadron Leader Ali Sandeman, and Beau.

A sergeant from RAF Halton has travelled to Everest’s base camp for a mountain challenge to help train rescue dogs and their handlers.

Sergeant Gaz Elliott, who is due home this week, was climbing Island Peak (6300m) and aiming to raise more than £3,000 for the Search Dogs Lowland Rescue Team.

Gaz is a member of the team, along with fellow RAF Halton’s Squadron Leader Ali Sandeman, and they both became involved after meeting the Search Dogs Buckinghamshire (SDB) team, an entirely voluntary group which comes under the national umbrella of Lowland Rescue.

Most counties have a foot search team and some, like Buckinghamshire, have a dedicated dog search unit as well.

The role of SDB is to search for vulnerable missing persons and the team of 45 with eight search dogs is tasked directly by Thames Valley Police and regularly asked to assist neighbouring counties.

Both Ali and Gaz are operational members, as is their pet springer spaniel, Beau.

Gaz said: “Most people have heard of mountain rescue. Those hill hardened individuals that go out in all weathers to search for and rescue stricken climbers and lost walkers, but up until I went to the county show I had never heard of Lowland Rescue.

“All of the dog training is conducted ‘in house’ by our own K9 training team and, when deemed ready, they are then put forward for a national assessment.

“The test is notoriously stringent, for good reason, and at the time of writing there are only around 47 qualified search dogs nationally operating for Lowland Rescue.

“The majority of dogs are ‘air scenting’ which means they are trained to locate generic human scent. This means that when searching an area, if the dog picks up on human scent, it will alert its handler then take them back to the source of the scent, hopefully the missing person.

“The team also have dogs training in other disciplines such as man trailing, where the dog follows a particular scent from a scent article left by the missing person, and victim recovery dogs.”

“Training the dog is only half the story as each human member goes through a comprehensive training package to ensure they have the skills required when out on a search.”

“Unfortunately all this does come at a cost and because the team is voluntary, we don’t get any official funding from the government or the police.

“Team members’ equipment such as uniform, radios, maps, search kit etc is all purchased using donations raised from charity events and dog equipment also costs a substantial amount with a harness and light collar costing in the region of £80. We constantly attend events with our roadshow to help raise awareness and funds, and SDB also has the honour of being one of RAF Halton’s chosen charities for 2015.”

If you would like to be part of this adventure then please join the Facebook page ‘Halton to the Himalayas’ where you will be able to follow Gaz’s progress. Visit searchdogsbucks.org.uk

If you would like to donate then visit SDB: Fundraiser profile page - BT MyDonate.