Northern Ireland

Heidi goes seek as Northern Ireland's first search and rescue dog

Heidi the search and rescue dog Image copyright BBC (Colletta Smith)
Image caption Heidi was trained to indicate the presence of human scent using a tennis ball as her toy reward

Heidi is the first qualified search and rescue dog in Northern Ireland, and she is keen to show off her new skills.

She has just passed all the tests to work under the banner of the Search And Rescue Dogs Association (SARDA), which sounds very serious, but for her it's all a game.

In fact, it's all about her soggy tennis ball.

Trainer David Carlile demonstrates the process.

"Heidi is trained to detect human scent in the air and then follow the scent, she then sees the person, comes back, indicates to me by barking and then leads me back to the person. And then she gets her toy," he said.

That might sound straight forward, but it has been two and half long years of hard work for David and Heidi.

'Play drive'

He is a volunteer with the organisation and has had the dog since she was a puppy.

As a search and rescue dog, Heidi is trained to find the scent of living humans, unlike the cadaver dogs sometimes used in hunts for bodies.

Until now, the team have been working with a dog based in County Donegal, but Heidi is the first of those currently being trained to qualify in Northern Ireland.

Image copyright BBC (Colletta Smith)
Image caption SARDA volunteers Phil and David pose with their newest recruit

It is obvious that Heidi will run pretty much anywhere when she knows she will get her soggy tennis ball toy at the end of it and David says that is the crucial ingredient.

"It's the high play drive that makes a good search dog and she definitely has that," he said.

For David, the reward is knowing that he can help people in dire straits.


For his day job, he works as a kitchen fitter, and says being self-employed makes it easier to respond if he is needed.

The SARDA handlers are all volunteers, and are used by the police, mountain rescue and fire brigade.

David says he is ready for their first official call.

"Heidi is with me pretty much 24 hours a day. She comes to work with me, I've a bag packed, and if the call comes through - we're good to go."

Image copyright BBC (Colletta Smith)
Image caption The SARDA handlers are all volunteers, and are used by the police, mountain rescue and fire brigade

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