Honestly that sounds far too grand for what I do, especially given the fun I have in the process.
I am a member of a search and rescue team; Search Dogs Sussex.
Search Dogs Sussex is a part of Lowland Search and Rescue and provides nationally qualified dog teams to help the emergency services look for vulnerable missing people in Sussex and, when requested, neighbouring counties.
People who know me, at the point they find out, look at me a bit funny and say things like; “You do know that takes place outside? Where the mosquitos and sun are?” or “Don’t you have to be fit for that because, and I say this out of love…, you aren’t” or “Doesn’t that mean phone calls in the middle of the night, and, well, you value sleep more than most?”.
I then allay people’s fears and explain that I am a non-operational member of the team.
Being an operational member of the team is a huge commitment. It means committing to a minimum of 12 hours of team training a month, to attending training events on top of that, supporting each other through the rigorous testing and retesting that is required for each part of the skill set needed to be an effective operational team member and, once qualified, being available on average for every other call out, which last year meant being pulled away from family and other commitments at least once a month. That commitment isn’t for everyone, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t things you can do to contribute to the team; to make Search Dogs Sussex be the best it can be.
My role is to help the operational members of the team with their training, to help with the fundraising needed to ensure that our operational members, including the dogs, have the equipment and skills they need when they are searching for a missing person, or with any other task that isn’t directly related to a ‘call out’.
At training sessions, for example, I will become a practice missing person (aka a misper), and will hide in the search area for the dogs to find. I love it. I get to see the dogs working, honing their innate skills. The dogs love the work. That is clear from the looks on their faces when they find you. Sometimes you just get a quick double take and the dog is gone to alert their handler to their find. Sometimes you get a quick kiss or nuzzle before they run off. Sometimes you get to see dogs really working out the information their noses are telling them before figuring out where you are hidden. Occasionally I get to throw a little role play in to test the humans’ skills as well. On other occasions I might be the guardian of the ‘RV’, staying with the cars and any dogs that aren’t being worked. It is a small job, but it helps the team make the most of the training time they have.
Being non-operational doesn’t require you to be a navigation wiz, meet the moderate fitness requirement needed (my friends are very truthful people), or commit to a significant amount of time away from your family. But it does give you a way to get involved and be able to contribute positively to a team which helps vulnerable people, their family and friends at a time of crisis, and that makes me proud to be a volunteer and to be part of Search Dogs Sussex.