As we discovered in Part 1, Essex Fire-fighter and USAR (Urban search and rescue) dog handler John Ball has had a long and successful working partnership with his search and rescue dog Darcy.
They’ve been deployed on rescue missions as a part of the UK-ISAR (International search and rescue) team to Indonesia and Nepal as well as working alongside local fire and rescue crews within Essex.
Darcy an air-scenting dog is specifically trained to search for live casualties in the aftermath of disasters like earthquakes. They are one of the twenty-one fire service dog teams in the country and one of just twelve international search dog teams.
In this Part 2, we find out a little more about this team. Border Collie Darcy is John’s pet as well as his working dog and was selected by him as an 8 week old pup. Despite being relatively new to dog training when he began in 2004. John knew exactly what he was looking for in a search and rescue dog. As her training is based on toy reward a good play drive was uppermost in Johns search for the right dog. John told us that Darcy was the most respondent to toys in her litter making her a good prospect.
John began training Darcy immediately she was home working on that drive getting her to bark (speak) for a toy. Barking is the indication Darcy uses when she makes a find on a search. John also took Darcy to obedience and socialisation training. Then followed search training, easy at first and becoming progressively harder. When around 12 months old and physically fully developed her agility training began, jumping around before this stage could lead to joint problems in later years. Darcy passed her first grading’s just before she was 18 months old. She is now ten years old and still working enthusiastically. “I had said that when she got to eight I should start looking for a new dog but she’s ten now and still alert and ready to work,” commented John.
As Darcy grew into an adult she developed a naturally petite stature, whilst chatting about her size John remarked. “Darcy is small even for a Collie and I was brought-up with German Shepherds and so not used to smaller breeds but as her training advanced I soon came to realise that Darcy’s small size was a lot more of a help than a hindrance”. Being small means she’s light, can be easily lifted when in a harness and can work in small spaces. John demonstrates this by putting Darcy into the full lift harness and even when lifted its amazing how calm she is. She obviously has full trust in John.
The bond between handler and dog was clear to see as John demonstrated some exercises around the training area at their Essex base. Their accreditation as a UK-ISAR dog team is the result of dedication and lots of hard work and has not been without some difficult obstacles. John explained.
Darcy’s first international deployment came in 2009 to Sumatra, Indonesia as part of the rescue mission following an earthquake. Though Darcy had a valid pet passport she fell afoul of quarantine regulations on return to the UK due to Indonesia being unlisted under the passport scheme. This meant she was subject to quarantine restrictions. Aware of this, the decision to go was taken as it was clear Darcy’s skills could really make a difference in the aftermath of the disaster.
Subject to a compulsory 6 month quarantine period John was concerned for her fitness levels due to lack of activity and exercise space so action was taken to make the best of her time in quarantine. Following negotiations with DEFRA and modifications at their training base. A day licence from quarantine was granted so Darcy could continue training during the day, vital to ensuring her readiness for deployment, though she had to return to the designated kennels overnight. An import/export licence was obtained which allowed Darcy to be taken out of the country during the quarantine spell. “This enabled me to train with contacts made in the French fire service through IRO. It got Darcy out of quarantine and broke down that period into a manageable time” John added.
In 2012 quarantine restrictions were relaxed to countries unlisted in the passport scheme bringing a welcome relief. In April 2015 the team were deployed to earthquake hit Nepal and John described their return from that deployment as “A huge relief that we wouldn’t be facing the same quarantine restrictions as before on our return”.
In Part 3 John tells us about that deployment to the Nepal earthquake area.
By Hanna Barten