New Years day 2016. For most of us, a day of relaxing with the family, an opportunity to watch a film or play a board game with the kids. Or maybe take a nice slow walk in the country. Amongst the festivities of Christmas and New Year its a families opportunity to recover from the excesses of the previous few weeks. Being a member of a Lowland Rescue Search and Rescue team, I know that this is not the case for everyone. It is a time where those less fortunate decide that the world would be a better place without them. For these people the idea of starting a new year is not an option. The following is personal account by one of our operational dog handlers on a callout that Search Dogs Sussex responded to on New Years day 2016.
January 1st 2016. New Years Day. What a miserable day. Cold, wet and windy. After seeing in the New Year with my partner and three kids we arose slightly later than usual with the obligatory repeated 'Happy New Year!' and 'Pinch-punch first of the month' (my kids are still fairly young). A quick breakfast and we were planning our day - quick coffee, pop round to see the grand-parents, that sort of thing.
1042am. My Lowland Rescue callout phone loudly chirped. That changed everything. An apologetic look to the wife and the returned wordless look that said “there goes our nice family day - but don't worry, go help find someone”. No words were spoken, nor needed to be. As a member of Sussex Search Dogs and a Level 2 operational search dog handler, this is a common occurrence - on average 30 times a year in support of the Police to help look for vulnerable missing people. But on the special days, like Christmas Day (it's happened before) and in this case, New Years Day, it's all the more significant. The wife understands, the kids less so. So after a quick apologetic discussion with them to tell them I need to go, and no, I don't know when I will be back, I gather my search kit, load the car, grab a quick thermos of coffee and head out the door with my right-hand and most important search dog Millie. It's a 50 minute drive to the search location.
Upon arriving at the search location I notice foot search teams and other dog search teams from neighbouring counties - about 60 searchers - all of these people have done the same as I have and left their families to come out to help look for the missing person. The missing person in this case is a despondent male who is suspected to want to end his life. It is known roughly where his car is but thats all we have. The Police are coordinating the search together with the Lowland Rescue search managers. As a Lowland Rescue Team Leader I receive a short briefing from the search manager and I am tasked with searching a path leading away from the missing persons car up to a local beauty spot. I gather my team and brief them on the tasking and any other things like who is responsible for communications and first-aid in the event we find the missing person. We travel to the starting point of our search and encounter a Police general purpose dog team who had just completed a quick search of the local surrounding area but found nothing - they were happy to hand responsibility for the continuing search to a specialist search dog team. We train almost 8 hours every week to do this. For every 1 hour that we search on a live search we train about 12 hours. This is what we do.
My job as a dog handler is to take the environment, scenario and other ad-hoc factors into account and use the dogs amazing sense of smell to detect any human in the area of my search. We searched approximately 7km of pathways that day. After approximately 6 hours of combined searching and as light was fading, we and all of the other foot and dog search teams out elsewhere were stood-down for the day.
I drove home with mixed emotions. Disappointed that the missing person had not been found. That meant he was still out there. I wondered if the search would continue tomorrow. I eventually returned home after dark and managed a little family time before the kids went off to bed.
January 2nd 2016. What a miserable day. Cold, wet and windy. 1000am. My Lowland Rescue callout phone loudly chirped.....continuing search.
That look again. That explanation again. Load the car again.
This is what we do. And proud of it.