Heathland Hounds member blog: Hampshire Search & Rescue Dogs
I’m Gill and I live in the top right corner of Hampshire, pretty close to both Surrey and Berkshire and I love walking the heaths as you get such a mix of terrain, flora and fauna that you can always find something new to investigate or explore, or just go back to old favourites for a quiet flask of tea and a daydream to get away from it all…
While I don’t actually have a dog myself, I’m a volunteer with Hampshire Search and Rescue Dog team which is one of several Lowland Rescue teams who cover the Thames Basin Heath area alongside teams in Berkshire and Surrey. We are called out by the police to assist with searches for high risk vulnerable missing people across the county, and like all Lowland Rescue teams we are on call 24 hours a day 365 days a year, and so far in 2020 we have attended over a hundred callouts in our busiest year ever.
We have three operational dogs for the Hampshire county (a springer spaniel and two red collies) and several trainee dogs at various stages from a cocker to a GSD; all the dog handlers work alongside our operational support team members who are well trained in first aid, safety and safeguarding, radio communication and outdoors navigation. Dog teams are often sent to difficult rural areas or dense woodland that would take a human-only search team a long time to fully clear, and I’ve grown to love being in the outdoors at night in the company of a smart and enthusiastic dog doing a job we both love.
Our dogs work by searching for human “air scents” in an assigned area, and when they find one focusing it down to a single spot that the scent is coming from, then going back to their handler and alerting them before leading the team to the source of the scent. They are assessed on successfully searching an area size of 50 acres, but in practice it can often be much larger than that depending on the tasking and overall search operation. Most importantly, for the dogs it’s all a game; during their training they gradually learn that finding a lost person and then taking their handler right to them will get them their favourite high value toy and lots of fuss and praise.
When they’re not at training or on a callout the dogs are all normal pets, living with their handlers and families, doing normal dog things – or more likely, doing crazy lovable dog things! Volunteering with the team really re-introduced me to a love of the outdoors I haven’t had since childhood, and we’re lucky enough to live in the TBH area with so many places to go and enjoy it.
Heathland Hounds member