North Shore Rescue is unique among British Columbia’s mountain search and rescue teams in that it has three validated search dogs ready to board a helicopter or rush into the wilderness when hurry up.
Although they are each beloved members of their families, Chloe, Neiko and Dreki are highly skilled working dogs. To be accredited by the BC Search Dog Association requires about 2,000 hours of specialized training in addition to regular housebreaking and obedience.
They must then pass a test in which the dog and its handler are judged as a team. To pass, they must plan and execute a search of a 500 square meter strip of land, locating three hidden objects and one hidden human subject within 90 minutes.
The researchers and their dogs form such a close-knit team that it would be impossible for a different handler or dog to be replaced and still work together.
Contrary to the popular image of a bloodhound with its nose down, the scent tends to drift off in the breeze from its cone-shaped source. Once the dog picks it up in its strong olfactory nerves, just follow it, going from side to side in the cone, narrowing it as they get closer.
A ground crew can cover a wide area on foot but just miss something in the undergrowth. A well-trained dog will not make this mistake. If there is an object out of place in the wild, a search dog will notice it and alert its handler. It allows search teams to quickly exclude areas and focus their efforts elsewhere.
In addition to their search abilities, they bring another, less tangible asset to the team: a sometimes-much-needed morale boost for two-legged rescuers when there’s a tough search in the wild.
And not just any labradoodle will do. Researchers prefer German Shepherds and Belgian Malinois — breeds known to not only have highly adaptable noses, but also a strong will to work and help their (human) pack. What really motivates them on the field, however, is the promise that finding something will lead to praise and a fun game of tug with their coach.
In 2021, there were only 20 validated search dogs in all of British Columbia
It was Ellie Lamb who introduced the search dogs to North Shore Rescue in 2014 with her Nan Belgian Malinois. Nan retired in 2019 and sadly passed away later that year. Roger Bean’s dog, Chloe, is now North Shore Rescue’s veteran dog team, but Lamb and her new pup Dreki, along with Ryan Morasiewicz and her German Shepherd Neiko, have each earned accreditation and officially joined. NSR’s dog team in 2021.
Get to know the dogs of North Shore Rescue:
Raising: belgian malinois
Administrator : Roger Bean
Personality at home: Chloe has endless energy and drive and a knack for getting into trouble. She will constantly pester you to get you to engage with her. She likes to ride on things: chairlifts, snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and, unfortunately, my motorcycle (I won’t take her for a ride on that, but that doesn’t stop her from jumping on my lap when I ride this).
Favorite treat: She’s never come across a food she doesn’t like, but her favorite reward is a good tug party.
Best attribute: His most notable attribute is his athletic ability.
Specialty in the field: Chloe is validated for both wilderness search and avalanche rescue.
Your proudest moment: When she makes a discovery that leads to a successful search, but also when she can quickly search and clear an area with a high degree of certainty that the subject is not in that area. This allows us to focus our strategy on other areas.
Raising: German shepherd
Administrator : Ryan Morasiewicz
Years with North Shore Rescue: Ryan, 10; Neiko, six months
Personality at home: Balance. He is always ready to play, but also likes to relax and spend time with his human pack.
Favorite treat: Swimming with his floating toy Kong. When it comes to food, whatever the baby manages to throw out their high chair before they can pick it up.
Best attribute: Obedience and unfailing search skills.
Specialty in the field: Wilderness research profile.
Your proudest moment: Absolutely nail his first research validation and show what he is capable of.
Name: Dreki (means Dragon in Old Norse)
Age: of them
Raising: belgian malinois
Administrator : Ellie Lamb
Years with North Shore Rescue: Six months as a validated SAR dog
Personality at home: Dreki loves her family, including our cat, but even at home she does not leave me and always monitors my position. If Dreki could, she would work 24/7. She wasn’t born with a “kill switch”, but alas, she cuddles up in the evening, and just before she gets into her crate at night, she’ll give everyone a big “hug”.
Favorite treat: Her favorite treat is tug of war, frisbee, hugs and carrots.
Best attribute: Dreki is a business, so she likes to seek and she likes to follow.
Specialty in the field: Dreki is a Provincially Validated Wilderness Search Dog. Although she is young, her focus, work ethic and determination stand out. There’s no giving up in her, and when we’re in charge of a search area, I’m confident Dreki leaves nothing behind. If someone is there, she will find him.
Your proudest moment: Not a particular moment but a general feeling of pride in the dog she is becoming. I love a thinking dog for search and rescue, and Dreki is just that. She is applying the important lessons she has learned in the field. I believe she has a bright future working with the canine teams and members of North Shore Rescue. In doing so, it is certainly our privilege to serve.
This story was included in a special section of the North Shore News in print on January 26, 2022. The full article can be viewed in our Digital Edition Archive. Portions of this story have already appeared in an earlier version in the North Shore News.