A friend indeed
SQUAW VALLEY Murphy, a 3-month-old golden retriever, is a fourth-generation ski patrol dog at Squaw Valley USA. But, like any rambunctious puppy, Murphy seemed blissfully unaware of the avalanche training going on around him Wednesday morning as he sat in the snow and gnawed on his leash. Hes on fire with excitement, said Murphys handler, Eric Seelenfreund of Squaw Valleys ski patrol. Starting out with simple lessons, Murphy practiced puppy runaway drills, where Seelenfreund would hide in a snow cave and let the young pup find him. Twelve ski patrol dogs and their handlers from Squaw Valley and other area resorts joined Murphy and Rasco, his golden retriever sire, during a week-long training and certification event with the Placer County Avalanche Canine Team.Using dogs to rescue avalanche victims really came to fruition within the last two to three years, said Placer County Sheriffs Sgt. Dan Ingalls. In the past, area resorts havent had a certified canine team as a resource for avalanche searches, Ingalls said. Response time is critical for such rescues, he said.One canine team is just as effective as 45 searchers, Ingalls said. Craig Noble, head of the avalanche dog program at Squaw Valley, agrees that using ski patrol dogs to locate a victim caught in an avalanche is highly effective. Noble said the ski patrol dogs are sort of like an insurance program. His 6-year-old border collie, Cory, took seven minutes to locate an avalanche victim in a 120-acre search of the area, Noble said. The dogs are trained to pick up a persons scent, alert a ski patroller where a victim is by barking, and locate a victim partially buried in snow, he said. To ensure ski patrol dogs achieve a high standard of rescue skills, dogs will typically train two seasons before they are certified as avalanche dogs.Three instructors from the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association were on hand Wednesday to teach the ski patrol dogs and their handlers avalanche rescue techniques, said instructor Yvonne Thornton of the Canadian team. Instructors have been training ski patrols at Squaw Valley for 10 years, she said. Weve been together 20-plus years, Thornton said of the Canadian canine unit. Weve got it pretty dialed in.Overcoming a fear of noisy helicopters is one of the first lessons the dogs must learn, Thornton said. The stress level goes way up when an actual search and rescue occurs, so the dogs need to be comfortable around all the commotion. Careflight and California Highway Patrol helicopters transported a few dogs and handlers at a time from High Camp to different avalanche training courses, complete with buried clothing (to simulate an avalanche victim). Thornton said placing pieces of clothing in the snow instead of using people makes it more challenging for the dogs to track a scent. Murphy still has more tough training ahead if hes to follow in Rascos pawprints, but he made a good start Wednesday on his first day of class.
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