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Annual August Bank Holiday Member Collection for SARDA Wales (Search & Rescue Dogs) in Llanberis

There is a devoted core of the UK's voluntary search & rescue teams that doesn't get nearly enough recognition - that is the families and friends of Search & Rescue members: those significant others and children of operational team members who have had birthday parties, days out and a night's sleep interrupted by that callout to look for a missing person and who then pitch up to help collect money so as to ensure more interruptions in the future!

My other half, Kevin Thomas (a partner in Lanyon Bowdler's private client team) has supported the work of SARDA Wales ever since I joined the organisation over eight years ago, being himself a keen and experienced mountaineer, and for the last few years he has joined me and other human / canine members of SARDA Wales (Search & Rescue Dogs) in Llanberis for the annual August Bank Holiday member collection.  It takes at least £20,000 a year to keep this vital service running, all of it generated by public donations.

So, as ever, we arrived in Llanberis at the Snowdon Railway station at 8.30 on the Saturday and were kindly provided with free parking by the hotel parking attendants who are great friends of the search dogs.  We sorted our priorities by first doing the bacon butty run from the Station Grill (thank you for the staff discount guys, so very kind of you!) and ensuring the juiciest bits were saved for the dogs.

We were joined by Ester and her dog Izzy, Tim and his dog Izzy (this could get confusing!), Geraint and his two dogs Wil (trainee search dog) and Fly (retired search dog) and by Kevin's favourite Max, a black Labrador retired search dog who is a star with the crowds and especially with dog-phobic children who approach him tentatively and end up lying on the ground next to him, claiming dogs are their new favourite animals! Di and Spencer, two devoted "bodies" of many years' standing with SARDA Wales, turned up with their lovely border collie Tori - she is their pet but they went to the trouble of getting her registered with SARDA Wales and putting her (and themselves!) through the gruelling SARDA obedience and stock tests so they could go out there with her and hide for trainee dog handlers, replicating situations where dog-walkers go missing with their dogs, a scenario which which presents another set of challenges on a search.

Max adopted his usual stance with Kevin, chilling on his side on the ground and enjoying lots of cuddles whilst Kevin chatted with visitors who kindly filled our collection box with handsome sums of money in return for a cuddle (with the dog, not Kevin!). Retired Search Dog Fly spent her morning with me and although at 14 she's a little too old to enjoy being crowded out by children she charmed adults and individual children with her good looks, gentle nature and willingness to be stroked under the chin, returning the favour with a soppy look.

In the meantime the two youngsters, Izzy and Izzy, thrilled people with their obedience and photogenic behaviour. 

A lot is asked of the dogs as we "do the crowd" with them and they always perform beyond all hopes and expectations and humble us with their patience and good humour.

Partway through the morning Geraint asked if I would lay a trail for his trainee search dog Wil. This meant going on a walk through the woods and clambering around for a bit up to Castell Dolbadarn then finding a route out and back to town, leaving my scent on the way. Wil would then be asked to search for me later in the day, using a swab of gauze that had been in my clothing earlier in the day so it smelt of me.

Around midday Geraint asked me to go back to a spot of my choosing on the trail I had laid.  I am used to "bodying" like this for the dogs but Geraint asked Kevin to accompany him on the search - on a real callout for a missing person a dog handler would have a navigator with them to keep an eye on the route and clues, plot the ground covered and watch the dog for signs of interest and Kevin's first experience of following a dog working on a search is the beginning of what a navigator would be expected to do.

Wil located me hiding in bracken up near Castell Dolbadarn and it was great to see Kevin's reaction to the whole process as Wil got his food treat and a game with his favourite tattered tennis ball - I said to Kevin later "All those weekends and nights I abandon you - that's what it's all about!"

So it was back to collecting at Llanberis where, in spite of rain squalls, people came out to support us, fill our tins, give our dogs the love and fuss they so richly deserve, ask questions and hopefully go away with a story to tell.

Search & Rescue are never off duty: down at the station we dealt with route queries, some first aid and a potential overdue walker (happy ending!) whilst our colleagues collecting with their dogs up at Snowdon summit helped out on a rescue of a person with a head injury on the mountain, working with the RAF Valley helicopter to get them to vital medical treatment and safety.

It's a long day, our legs ache by 5pm and a bottle of wine is definitely on the menu that night but for some reason we look forward to it every year! For more info and pictures please visit www.sardawales.org.uk. 

I am always more than happy to visit companies and organisations to give a presentation on search dogs, and a donation to support the dogs’ work is very welcome.

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The lovely Max - a retired search dog, along with myself and Kevin.