Bryn Puts Away His Passport
Bryn the border collie has travelled the world to help in disaster areas but now it’s time for him to put away his passport and spend quality time at home.
Eleven year old Bryn, who has just returned from working in Nepal following the devastating earthquake, was trained for the UK’s international search and rescue team (UKISAR) from a puppy. He and his handler, Steve Buckley, are widely recognised as one of the best dog and handler team in the country.
Steve, a firefighter with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service and a member of the UK international search and rescue team, explained how the unique partnership came about: “I was in India with UKISAR in 2001 following the Gujarat earthquake. 12,300 people lost their lives. The UK team had only one dog at that time but it was there that I saw search dogs in action for the first time.
“Where it could take our team two or three hours to clear an area, despite all the technical equipment and cameras, those dogs and handlers could cover the ground so much quicker. The dogs worked over a building straight away to search out live casualties before moving on to the next area. The speed at which they worked clearly improved the chances of trapped casualties.
“When we returned to the UK I put a case together for Cheshire to have a search and rescue dog and went to see the Chief Fire Officer who was very receptive to the idea.”
A lady from the West Midlands offered one of a litter of pups to the Service. At that time Steve was a complete novice in the dog handling world so he took a knowledgeable colleague with him to help choose the right pup for the job.
“There are certain traits to look for,” said Steve. “You need a dog with focus, you need a dog with ball drive. Bryn had both in abundance even at 10 weeks old. You’d throw the ball out, he’d go and pick it up and drop it back at your feet, which is half way there. His sister was equally ‘qualified’ and I just couldn’t decide which of the two to have so, in the end, I asked my god daughter to choose and it was Bryn who came home with us!”
Once he’d settled into his Mobberley home, Bryn’s training began in earnest. “For Bryn, a squeaky toy is his reward. We started the learning process with three very simple steps. First I had to encourage Bryn to be focused on the squeaky toy and encourage him to bark in order to get it, secondly I had to get him to understand the link between the toy and humans. This was achieved by getting people to hide with the toy, mostly my children and god children. Once he’d made the connection it was just a case of introducing him to a search area, the only thing on Bryn’s mind was getting the toy as a reward.
“It was at this stage that we went to train for a week with Greater Manchester Police where we were given tasks and objectives. Bryn and I then worked on the skills we were taught for three months before returning for a final week’s training. Bryn was around twelve months old at this stage and we spent the majority of our time reinforcing his training by going back to every step until it was just second nature to him. This should have been quite a challenge but in reality Bryn just absolutely loved it.
“Rescue dogs are trained to pick up the scent of a living person,” continued Steve. “The reality is that our role is to save lives so Bryn will not indicate on dead casualties – he knows the difference. What they’re actually smelling is the natural scent of skin and other odours given from the body when they are alive, which they can do from an incredible distance, for want of a better way of putting it they cone in to the strongest area of scent.
“The dog works ahead of you and other rescue workers so they’re not being distracted by your scent. Then, when they pick up on the trail, they simply bark, and that’s when we can begin sending down cameras into the rubble and start digging.”
Bryn became UKISAR graded in 2005, meaning he could go out on search and rescue missions with the teams. In 2009 they travelled to Zatec Czech Republic to participate in what is considered to be the most stringent testing process in the world, the International Rescue Dog Organisation’s ‘mission readiness test’, which consists of seven searches over 36 hours, a 10km march, dog first aid and working at height. They are one of only four UK dog teams to attain this qualification.
Steve has assessed dog and handler capabilities in America, Argentina, Spain, Romania, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and Australia, as well as being deployed on search and rescue operations to India, Sumatra, Japan and Nepal.
“As part of their kit, Bryn and the other rescue dogs have special boots to protect their paws from glass shards, tiles, splinters and other debris. Unfortunately none of these were sufficient protection, as when on a search in Japan, Bryn got a nasty cut on his front leg. Although we had no vet with us, we did have, fortunately, UKISAR’s medical director, Dr Malcolm Russell MBE, and he was able to super-glue and bandage Bryn’s leg so he could continue to work,” said Steve.
This incident made headlines around the world.
Steve recalled: “It wasn’t actually a bad cut but, because he was running around and his heart was pumping, there was a lot of blood on his leg.
“It made a dramatic photograph for the front of The Daily Mail – so much so I had to borrow a satellite phone from a British TV crew so I could call my wife and reassure her that Bryn wasn’t actually badly hurt.”
He added: “Bryn is brilliant at finding people in the rubble, but he is also a member of my family. We work together each day and go home together each night.”
So what’s next for Bryn? Although he’s put his passport away and won’t be going on any more international trips he will still be working for the Avon Fire and Rescue Urban Search and Rescue team (USAR). He could be called in at any time of the day or night to search for people in a lot of different scenarios such as gas explosions, terrorist attacks, building collapses, missing persons. He’ll carry on training both at home and with the USAR team.
And in between all that he’ll be putting his paws up for a well-earned rest, going for walks with the rest of his gang – Steve and his wife Sylvia have two other dogs, Fenn and Pippa, with another puppy arriving in the next few weeks – and generally relaxing in his own loving home.