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A Big ‘MERCI’ to RAB is due, for providing me with various items of technical gear since last winter which has greatly contributed in our progress towards qualifying as a dog search and rescue team.

It is hard to believe that it was just over a year when I picked up the little bundle of black fur from the dog breeders in the north east of France, the weekend when a snow storm hit the region.  It must have been a good omen! ‘Val des Granges’ breeds predominantly flat coated retrievers for gun dogs and dogs for the blind, 2 contrasting professions!; all of Fjord’s sisters left to embark on a career as the latter, however Fjord was a bit too head strong for the cause though perfect for what we were looking for.  Time has flown by since; Fjord was thrown into his first winter season just after being weaned off mum at the delicate age of 3 months.  However he couldn’t have been more in his element revelling in the powdery white stuff!  The season 2010/2011 was concluded with my spending 3 weeks at ENSA (l’Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme’) to achieve the Pisteur Secoursite 2ème degré (The French 2nd level qualification in ski patrol and rescue).

We still have a long way to go but Fjord is 16 months old now and we are progressing in leaps and bounds. To be completely honest I have a great deal more to learn than him!

We have just recently completed and passed a compulsory course (the CYN 1) with the fire brigade’s specialised dog search and rescue unit.  5 days spent bearing the -10 temperatures out in the stunning pine forests not far from Bordeaux, as well as a day at the earthquake simulated training site not far from the city.

My acceptance onto this course was a result of passing the ‘module C’ last October, which lasted 4 days, when admittedly the temperatures were a little kinder! This consisted of training and tests in search and rescue in the various disciplines; out in the ‘field’ (which can be anything from flat farmlands, to forests, to mountain terrain), in earthquake rubble and a technical obstacle course.   Not forgetting the written vet exam, naturally in French; ‘the ‘maîtresse Elliott’ was awarded 18.5 out of 20,” she says with a sigh of relief!

We now have 6 months of hard work ahead of us to acquire all the necessary skills to pass the final exams in July and most importantly become an effective search and rescue dog team.

We are now midway through the winter ski season and in the middle of the holiday period.  I work as a ‘pisteur secoursite’ and Fjord a trainee avalanche search and rescue dog!  He rides up on the chairlift with me in the morning for the opening of the slopes and remains at the rescue hut for the duration of the day.  At around 33 kilos I try to avoid carrying him to put him on the lift, though admittedly during our Module C I had to learn to carry the ‘bon bébé’ on my shoulders!  (At first it was difficult getting him to cooperate but once the wriggling mass had been reassured that the ‘maîtresse’ was NOT going to drop him he calmed down!)

Fjord is also set through his paces with the descent of the ski slopes when we open and close them.  He has to learn to keep a distant from our skis, which can potentially cut badly a paw or cut a tendon (the latter could mean the end of his career before it has even begun as a working dog.)  Not forgetting the future compulsory helicopter winching……we were transported together for the first time inside the rescue helicopter a month ago.

All this however is only the tip of the iceberg, (excuse the pun!).  It is the daily conditioning for obedience and physical performance which will make Fjord into the strong rescue dog we hope to fully integrate into the team.  Not forgetting the regular search and rescue dog training days every fortnight with the specialised mountain fire brigade unit.

It is for this reason I am grateful to have had the technical equipment from RAB to enable us to fulfil such demands, whether that has been out running in the forest, up mountain tracks or swimming in the mountain lakes or the currents of the rivers that swell each year with  the melt water.  With Fjord being a water dog this must be just pure pleasure for him!

Our next major date in the diary is the ‘CYN 1’ 2 day exam in July when Fjord will have 21 months.  This will be followed 5 months later with 3 weeks at ANENA (Association Nationale pour l’Etude de la Neige et des Avalanches) in the Alps in December to hopefully finally qualify as a French search and rescue avalanche dog team.  It will mark the end of our initial ‘training’ journey but if we are successful it will be the start of what will be an incredibly rich journey in canine search and rescue which I will feel very privileged to be part of.

Thank you RAB for your continuing support.

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Photos by Richard McCaig.