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Search dog Zee is a 6 year old German Shepherd. She is handled by team member Anni, and was a rescue dog when Anni re-homed her in 2010. They train every week in various remote areas from moorland to woodland. Fellow team members volunteer as ‘dogsbodies’ and hide out, rain or shine, for Zee to find them.  Anni also undertakes regular training with North Yorkshire Police Dog Section.

Zee has been trained to find missing people using both air scent and ground scent methods.  She is also trained to find property articles with recent human scent on. This is useful if Anni loses her keys or phone – but more specifically if the person the team are searching for has discarded a bag or clothing. Each year Zee and Anni undertake a re-licensing assessment with the police dog section; this ensures they are competent and safe to work in the team.

This year’s assessment took place at Tom Smith’s Cross, a rough woodland area between Sutton Bank and Helmsley. The police dog trainer set up a missing from home scenario, where Anni was given a start point and left to search a substantial area of wood and forest tracks using Zee. The search was set up in such a way that the dog could not directly ground track the missing person, but had to locate them via the air scent rafts they give off into the atmosphere.

Unbeknown to Anni, the person was hidden at the bottom of the woods in a ravine, which was completely out of sight of anyone on the surrounding grass tracks or road.  After some time searching the forest tracks, Zee’s body language changed, and she disappeared at speed downhill into an area overgrown with bracken and brambles – it’s always brambles or nettles!  A few minutes later came the sound every search dog handler loves – barking. Zee’s bark indicates to Anni that she has found the missing person, and she got her well-earned ball reward.

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This is what we train for, helping people in wild and remote places. Sometimes Zee indicates on a person who isn’t lost; maybe they were enjoying the tranquility and beauty of a remote area. It’s a bonus when that happens, and proof that the training works!  Being a search dog handler in the team is a vocation for life, and a partnership between dog and handler that lasts 24 hours a day, seven days a week – coincidentally the opening hours of Scarborough and Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team.

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Team comment:

Anni was typically modest in the production of this report.  Below is an extract of what the Police dog trainer and handler said about the assessment

I was hidden at the bottom of the woods in a ravine which is completely out of sight of anyone on the grass tracks or road. This is a large area for this team to search on their own and is a much larger search area than I would set up for the normal training of an operational Police dog.

The search was set up in such a way that the only way I could be found was by the search dog.

After approximately 30 minutes I could hear Zee approaching in the distance. I remained out of sight the whole time. Zee approached me and stood out and barked continuously until Anni was able to locate me.

This was an excellent result by Anni and Zee.

In my opinion Anni and Zee are both competent and safe to work as part of your search team.

Well done to both of you.