While we are all about speaking for those who cannot speak for themselves, animals seem to always have a way of completing extraordinary tasks and helping us humans, too. With winter upon us, we were recently amazed by a story that the American Kennel Club wrote in their January/February 2020 issue of their AKC Family Dog magazine. The issue was all about working dogs, and included an article called “The Snow Angles,” which was a story about how rescue-dog teams save people stuck in avalanches.
Avalanches occur when slabs of snow or ice fracture and slide down a steep slope. In the article, AKC explains that about 26 people die in avalanches in the U.S. each year on average, mostly in the backcountry. Time is of the essence when these instances occur, with AKC detailing, “about 93 percent of avalanche victims survive if they’re dug out within 15 minutes. Then it plummets: only 20-30 percent survive after being buried for 45 minutes and very few are alive after two hours.”
That’s why the help of trained avalanche dogs are so important. The president of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue (WBR), Tracy Christensen, was quoted in the article stating, “Dogs can clear an avalanche area the size of two football fields in under 20 minutes; the same site it would take 150 people three hours to clear.” Dogs really are amazing creatures, and our best companions!
It’s a lot of training and commitment to become a rescue-dog team, but it’s truly rewarding work. There are programs available to train avalanche dogs and WBR runs the United State’s oldest school, WBR International Dog School. AKC explains that WBR has a four-day program open to all professional ski patrol teams, with the programs held at Snowbird and Alta resorts. There are many other associations dedicated to this work; some of the associations mentioned in AKC’s article include: Swiss Alpine Club, Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association, Alaska SAR Dogs, and the International Commission on Alpine Rescue. There is even an association dedicated to training cats, the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Cat Association (CARCA)! Also make sure to check out Alpine Avalanche Rescue Foundation, a 501(3)c nonprofit formed to raise funds to support avalanche safety and education for professional rescuers and public throughout California.
Make sure to read AKC’s article to learn more about avalanche search and rescue dogs. The article includes an amazing story of Belgian Malinois Geto saving a 12-year-old skier in an avalanche in 2018, catching the scent in just about 15 minutes! Thanks to heroic dogs like Geto, people can ski in safety.