The Crystal Mountain Ski Patrol gained a fully certified avalanche rescue dog when Ari and Dylan (his human handler) passed their certification test this weekend. Crystal uses the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association validation protocol for certifying rescue dogs. A validated team–one that can be used and trusted in rescues–must be able to find two buried human victims and buried two articles of clothing or gear in 40 minutes. Ari and Dylan found them all in just over 20 minutes.
Ari is a 5-year-old Black Labrador Retriever. He is owned by Lisa Poncelet and Steve Vaughn. As a puppy, Ari was trained to be a “Seeing Eye” dog, and learned very well how to stay close to his humans and not stray. But Ari wanted to be a mountain dog, and when he met Lisa, it was love at first sight. During Ari’s first year as a ski patrol dog Lisa helped him flip his “city life” to a “mountain life” in which Ari learned to heal without a leash, to love hiking trails and snow, how to load a chairlift, and the importance of staying away from skiers and snowboarders with sharp edges.
Anna DeArrieta and Ari teamed up two seasons ago, and Anna is credited with helping Ari become an “Operational” rescue dog. Ari’s instincts to stay close to his humans hampered his progress while searching, when its important for the dogs to range across large areas in order to follow the human scent coming from the snow. In some ways, Ari was almost too obedient, looking at his handler for directions and waiting to be told what to do.
Both Ari and his humans wanted him to be a Fully Certified Avalanche Dog, one that could be used in a real avalanche and one his human team could trust. When Anna adopted her own dog, Luna, it was time for patroller Dylan Cembalski to step in as Ari’s human handler.
Most avalanche dogs have one or maybe two handlers in their patrol lifetimes. Ari has had three. But it hasn’t seemed to alter his personality–he’s as friendly and loving to Lisa and Anna as he is with Dylan. Ari is definitely not a “one-person” dog, and will trust any patroller in a red coat.
Ari’s breakthrough came this year when he and Dylan attended the Swiss Avalanche Dog School at Stevens Pass. Unlike most North American dog programs, the Swiss handlers often use food as a reward. The “victim” gets buried in a hole with a piece of sausage.
Instead of working to find the victim and play with their toy, Swiss handlers use the reward that dogs (and most humans) find pretty darn motivating–good old fashioned dried meat.
Once Ari realized that there was sausage buried under the surface of the snow, he changed. His searching became more keen and his search times decreased. After several years of training and numerous humans that have loved Ari and helped his move along towards his goal, he’s finally become a legitimate Fully Certified Avalanche Rescue Dog.
Congratulations Ari, and high-five Dylan, Anna and Lisa. Your hard work and dedication has paid off. Now let’s just hope we never have to use Ari’s skills for anything but practice.