The dog putting the 'rescue' into fire and rescue
A rescue dog is beating the odds and looks set to become one of Essex County and Rescue’s (ECFRS) newest employees.
When a stray labrador called Bailey was taken in by the Dogs Trust, he appeared to be a lost cause.
But one phone call later and Bailey was sniffing a trail to a new home and a new career.
Louise Crawford, Animal Welfare Scheme Co-ordinator at the charity, contacted the UK International Search and Rescue (UKISAR) and other services to ask if anyone was looking for a new search dog.
Graham Currie, ECFRS’s dog handler and a Crew Manager in the Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) team, as well as a member of UKISAR, said: "I'd been looking for a dog for just under a year when Louise put out Bailey's details so I went up to Loughborough Dogs Trust the following day.
"After testing Bailey's drive for a tennis ball and checking he had no aggression towards other dogs or people, I offered to take him on a six-week trial.
"The biggest thing was getting him in the van because he associated it with being taken to a compound, but within 24 hours he was taught to associate it with fun.
"By the third day, I was 95% sure he was the one. In the vehicle barn, there was rugby ball on a ledge above the gym weights and he wouldn't give up until he got it – that's the kind of determination we are looking for in a search dog.
"I was reluctant to take a labrador as they can be greedy and distracted with food, and I was looking for a springer, cocker or sprocker spaniel bitch because I've found they are less stubborn and easier to train.
"Bailey has got that drive though and he's not greedy, he'd take a ball over a bowl of food every time."
'Nothing fazes him'
Graham says Bailey, who is 18 months to two years old, has excelled at search and rescue activities. He has completed seven days of UKISAR training in buildings and rubble piles with police and national assessors.
Graham said: "To start with, we were hiding tennis balls to see if he would find them without being scared of the rubble. He is one of the most natural search dogs I've ever seen - he's like a mountain goat! Nothing fazes him, he has no fears or phobias.
"A police trainer and colleague said if we could clone this dog all our problems would be solved.
"A dog that cost us £185 has has turned out to be the most incredible creature."
'Beast from the East'
Graham is planning ahead and training Bailey to take over from Jarvis, an eight-year-old cocker spaniel, a live scent search dog for the Service, when he retires.
He will be one of 20 dogs used by USAR teams up and down the country, and he will be part of UKISAR, attending disaster zones across the globe.
It usually takes 18 months to three years to train a dog but Bailey, whose nicknames are Beast from the East and the Polar Bear, because of his size, could be "on the run" as early as next April.
Graham said: "He's already doing 'blind searching', using his nose to find people.
"He searches buildings so methodically; he'll go in the first door in the building or corridor, check all the rooms attached to it and go back to the corridor and do the same on the next door, and so on."
Part of the family
Graham has three other dogs - Jarvis, ECFRS’s search and rescue cocker spaniel Fizz, ECFRS’s Fire Investigation sprocker spaniel, and Ailith, which is Celtic for Alice, a 12-and-a-half-year-old springer spaniel who came from the Scottish Highlands. She is a pet but has been taught to do basic searching.
Graham, who is based at ECFRS’s USAR site in Lexden, Colchester, said: "We treat them like dogs. They can go and play, chase each other, swim in rivers and the sea, but as soon as the search harness is on, they know they have work to do.
"We've landed on our feet with Bailey – and so has he, because he has a lovely home now."
'We are super proud'
Louise Crawford, Dogs Trust’s Animal Welfare Scheme Co-ordinator, said she spotted Bailey's "fantastic" potential and is delighted to see he is so happy.
She said: "Despite being found as a stray, he is a confident dog, comfortable going into different environments and situations, happy to travel in vehicles and importantly he loves to chase a ball, which is a fantastic reward for him.
“He is doing an amazing job and he is really loved by Graham and is truly part of his family. We are delighted and super proud.”
Watch: Bailey shows off his skills
Page last updated 23 November, 2021