Harold Burrows - National Search and Rescue Dog Association (NSARDA)

I’ve lost count of the number of times my evening meal has been on the table just as I get the call to go on a search. It’s something all the family has to be prepared to put up with.

People go missing in all kinds of terrain and in all kinds of places. From mountains and moorlands to lowland rural and urban areas – in fact almost anywhere you can imagine. Search and rescue dogs are used to find them, wherever and whoever they are. They might be hill walkers; climbers; children; the elderly and confused; the desperate and despondent; and victims of crime.

We work with Mountain and Lowland Rescue Teams or directly for the Police and other Emergency Services.

Luckily most call-outs result in a find.  But sadly some don’t.

One I will never forget is the night I was summoned, along with colleagues from the Welsh branch of SARDA, to join other UK search teams assisting in the in the aftermath of the Lockerbie disaster, in December 1988. I remember driving up the motorway, which was eerily quiet because it was a Christmas night, with a feeling of apprehension, not knowing what we’d find. Along with my collie, Kim, I spent four days searching the area, including the crescent shaped crater where the aircraft had landed. We had to take photos and videos of any “finds” and hand them over to the police at the end of each day. 48 dogs and handlers worked in shifts. We were offered plenty of places to stay but chose to sleep on the floor of the gymnasium so we could all support each other.  My own abiding memory is of finding a serviceman’s wallet. As I opened the flap I glimpsed the corner of a photo of a wedding dress. It’s little details like that that catch you unawares. 

There’s no typical NSARDA volunteer. They come from all walks of life. We’ve got solicitors, doctors, nurses, plumbers, electricians – you name it.  Fitness is more of an issue than age and volunteering requires stamina and commitment. You have to be willing to be on-call 24/7, 365 days a year. 

Many breeds of dog can be trained for search and rescue work. Particularly Border collies, German shepherds, Labradors, pointers and retrievers. Dogs with a high “play-drive” are especially well suited. Training is a year-round process for both dogs and handlers.

Harold Burrows MBE, Chairman of NSARDA

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