WDP - Molly The Search and Rescue Dog
We recently had the great pleasure of spending some time with Molly the Collie and her owner June. Molly is a beautiful, multi-coloured Collie and a lowland rescue dog with Search Dogs Sussex. This was definitely not something that we had come across before but lowland rescue dogs are widespread across the country, doing their bit to help save lives in urban areas on a regular basis.
Search Dogs Sussex provide nationally qualified search dog teams to support the emergency services when looking for vulnerable missing people.
They work 24 hours a day, 365 days a year come rain or shine. They are a voluntary organisation founded in 2003. Just a group of ordinary people with everyday jobs who combine a love of dogs and the great outdoors and a desire to help others.
Search Dogs Sussex are a lowland rescue group, which is the equivalent of the better-known mountain rescue but as the name suggests they work in the rural flat lands.
June joined up after retiring from a busy job in 2009. She decided she needed a dog to keep her company and help keep her fit. She bought Molly as a young pup and an active companion.
Like most Collies, Molly loved agility training and it was during a training session that someone suggested that she and June join the local lowland search and rescue team.
June remembers thinking “Mountain rescue team? There aren’t many mountains round here.” However, she soon found out that lowland rescue was much the same – just without the mountains!
She decided to take Molly for selection and she passed with flying colours. They still had a lot of work ahead of them to become a valuable dog and handler unit. June also had to learn all about the theory and practice of professional search and rescue, and pass several exams.
Every dog and owner team are different and although Molly does all the sniff work, June has to understand what she means and what she’s found when she catches and is following a scent. She has to recognize a clear signal that Molly gives her when she has found someone and Molly receives her reward when she has led June all the way back to where she found someone.
They have to be able to work together in the wind, bad weather and busy or noisy places and they also need to consider their surroundings and the local geography.
Search Dogs Sussex are a totally voluntary organisation and they are called out more than 30 times a year and can be working in Sussex, Surrey, Essex and the surrounding counties. Lowland rescue teams are interested in signing up owners and dogs of all working breeds as they have the attitude and discipline to search thoroughly for long periods of time.
They work in teams of two or three and are trained to work together with other handlers and they work with the police at the scene. June is also fully first-aid trained.
Molly’s initial training took over two years, and she has now been fully trained for the last six to look for missing persons. She works by following the strongest human scent, she communicates with June throughout the search and alerts her if she picks up a scent.
Molly refreshes her skills up to four times a month and Search Dog Sussex get together on exercise with handlers “hiding” and dogs and handlers searching in a real-life environment.
Molly is reward trained and gets a big fuss and a treat when she finds her quarry.
When they are called out, they truly work as a partnership. Sometimes Molly will even disregard June if she is called back because she has found a strong scent and knows this is her job – it is a very sophisticated relationship.
Molly and June have been called out on over 60 searches.
Further to the initial training and practice dogs are also tested every two years to stay on the Lowland Rescue national register and be qualified to be called out to search. The police will only use dogs that are on that register.
So, what next for Molly? June tells us that Molly is certified to work until 2020 and then she will retire. She will have worked for 10 years doing such important work helping to find missing souls lost in the countryside, her shift is done.
Just think, next time you see a missing person on your local news channel, Molly may well be out looking for them.
It strikes us that we are learning so much talking to all these working dog owners and meeting their extraordinary dogs. They do amazing work behind-the-scenes, mostly unnoticed and a lot of it is work they are ideally suited to and work we could not do without them. Learning all about lowland rescue dogs has been a real eye-opener and we are grateful to June and Molly for sharing their story with us.