MOUNTAIN rescue volunteer Tony High and dog Isla are ready for action after scoring top marks in their life-saving training.
The dedicated pair, from Penshaw, were handed the Novice Shield for outstanding performance after completing their final assessment, the culmination of more than two years work.
They took part in exercises in the Lake District, where they discovered 15 “bodies” hidden in swathes of undergrowth in super-fast times. It is the first time a volunteer from the North East has won the national award, which has only been presented three times in the past 10 years.
“It’s been a lot of hard work, but worth it,” said Tony. “It was amazing to get the award. They rarely hand it out, so to get it was a massive achievement.”
Dad-of-four Tony, 38, and his two-and-a-half-year-old Border Collie will now join call-outs with the Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team, doing their best to bring the lost, the ill or the injured back to safety.
“The dogs are trained to find human air scents,” said Tony. “They go off to search for a body and when they find it they come back to the handler to show them where it’s at. It could be a quarter of a mile away.
“That’s what makes them so special.”
It takes a minimum of two years for a likely canine to make the grade with the Search and Rescue Dogs Association (SARDA) and be officially classified as an operational search dog.
“We could be called out any time of day or night,” said Tony, who works as a kitchen fitter. “It could be anywhere, in towns and cities as well as the mountains. We are called in by the police to help with a range of incidents. It could be lost walkers, missing persons or even escaped prisoners.
“It takes between two to four years to train up a rescue dog.
“Isla has done really well to be ready in just over two years.”
Teesdale and Weardale Search and Mountain Rescue Team operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and provides cover for the whole of County Durham, from the high fells in the west to the coastal communities of the North Sea.
To find out more about or to make a donation visit www.twsmrt.org.uk