Rescue dogs: Searching mountain ridges and inaccessible terrain for hurt and lost tourists

The tradition of rescuer dogs has been a staple in the Czech Republic for almost a century, and our country ranks among the top European leaders in this discipline.  Canine rescuers help in the mountains not only in winter, but throughout the whole year. When searching for the missing, their help is sought even by the police, especially in difficult terrain. They search mountain ridges for lost mushroom pickers, cyclists and hikers. Nevertheless, Czechs often know very little about the canine brigade of the Mountain Rescue. Currently, the brigade has twenty dog handlers. They are most numerous in the Krkonoše and Jeseníky Mountains, and now they are also helping in the Ore Mountains. 

Trips to the Czech and Moravian mountains are gaining more popularity not only among Czechs but also among residents of the neighbouring countries. However, visitors heading to the mountains for hikes, bike tours or mushroom hunting in the forest heights often underestimate the weather, the importance of good equipment or the difficulty of the terrain. If they run into any trouble, they rely on the help of the mountain rescuers and their canine partners. It is rescue dogs who make looking for such people more efficient and faster. They can speed up searches by several hours. A handler and his dog can search very thoroughly several search sectors in a much shorter time than a human. Moreover, they know the mountain terrain and its pitfalls very well. In addition, the dog can pick up the scent of the missing person up to several tens of meters, barking for help. 

“I find it amazing that a dog can draw attention to a place outside his level, above or below him. For example, a high seat or a pit where a person can fall in and, especially in the evening, it is easy to overlook it with the naked human eye when searching,” says Ondřej Vank, the newest addition to the Mountain Service's canine brigade, who with his dog Šuplík serves the Western Ore Mountains. According to the handler, cases where the use of dogs in the mountains is needed are increasing as the number of tourists visiting mountain areas grows. “Last summer, for example, we were looking for an older woman who got lost while mushroom hunting, and it was getting dark. We knew that she had no water with her or sufficient clothing and was in danger of exposure and exhaustion,” Ondřej explains one of the cases where deploying a dog could speed up the search for a missing person significantly. At that time he and his short-haired Border Collie had only the certification exam in front of them. This year, Ondřej and Šuplík can go into action.

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Photo credit: Fire Rescue Service of the Czech Republic

The Czech Republic, which has seven mountain ranges, is currently served by twenty pairs of mountain rescuers and dogs. Last year, this number was almost half. According to Ondřej Vanek, there should ideally be at least one emergency handler with a dog in each mountain area. He thinks that this is realistic in the future, as according to him no one questions the need. The Czech Republic is one of the most advanced countries in terms of dog rescuers in mountainous areas in Europe. While in foreign countries dog handlers usually work only on a voluntary basis, in our country the canine brigade is a full-fledged part of the mountain service. “We work very closely with colleagues from Austria, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia. We have recently been training dog handlers in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And although, for example, Austrian cynologists are very experienced, and we learn a lot from them, especially in the approach to dog training, they do not have as much support as we do here,” the Ore Mountains handler concludes. It is this tradition and the general Czech love for dog breeding to which we owe our mountain dog rescuers.

We wish all dog rescuers and their masters a lot of strength for the new season and operations with happy endings only!

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