Owners) who make a difference
Search Dogs Bucks volunteers are available 24 hours a day, all year round and worthwhile thing to do. The first time I had to respond I thought if we weren’t out there looking for this person then no one is, you get a real sense of responsibility.”
However, the probability of finding a missing person is about one out of every 40 searches. Some of Mr Westwell’s fellow volunteers have found missing people, but Mr Westwell is yet to find someone.
He said: “A lot of the time you go out and you don’t find the missing person because either they turn up somewhere else, the police find them or they’ve gone back home. But you’ve still been out there looking and you know that you’ve helped and finding out the person has been found is wonderful.”
The charity has about 50 volunteers who have been on searches all over Bucks and often train in places such as Amersham, Penn Wood, Wendover Woods, High Wycombe and Aylesbury.
However, out of the 50 only about 25 are operational and are the people who go out on searches. The other 25 are either in training or do behind the scenes work such as fundraising.
Becoming an operational volunteer and search dog is no easy task. All of the volunteers, including the dogs, are trained to national standards set by the Association of and Search d Rescue. efore a member can become operational they are trained to be competent in a number of disciplines, including search technique, first aid, navigation and communications. Training typically takes between three to six months for a dog handler and 12 to 24 months for a dog before it reaches the standard required for a national assessment. Once qualified both the dog handler and dog are reassessed every two years to ensure that they still achieve the required standards.
“It’s achievable, I don’t want to put people off,” Mr Westwell promised. The charity has seven qualified dogs, with only a total of about 50 across the country.
Mr Westwell said the most common breeds of dogs used are springer spaniels, cocker spaniels, collies and labradors.
Mr Westwell, whose dog Jasper is qualified, said to make the grade, the dogs have to search 50 acres in 90 minutes and find all the missing people.
“That’s a huge area to search and they can pick-up human scent from about 150m to 200m away. If they find a person they come back and tell you, normally they jump up and down because you need a clear sign, like a jump, because a lot of the time it’s night time and it’s dark and then you give them a special treat.”
Mr Westwell’s other dog Ozzy is in training to follow scent trails, which will help the team with things like what direction a person went in.
Mr Westwell, who lives in Berkshire, said the group is always looking for people to help with training by hiding.
He added: “We’re always looking for people interested in hiding outside for an hour or two, it’s relaxing and quite fun!”
Mr Westwell said the group is also looking for more people to go on searches as well as search dogs.
He said: “I think if you like the outdoors then it’s a really worthwhile way to spend your spare time. It’s very rewarding and it’s a great organisation to support.”
The group is also always looking for donations to keep it going.
Mr Westwell added: “All our funds come from fundraising, donations and sponsorship. We don’t receive money from anywhere else. Funds are vital and our main costs are people needing waterproof coats, torches, safety equipment, radios, collars for the dogs and just generally running costs, so it costs a reasonable amount of money to keep going.”
One of the charity’s dog handlers Gaz Elliott, who is in the armed services based at RAF Halton, will be part of a 14 strong team in May travelling to the Himalayas to trek to Mount Everest Base Camp and climb Island Peak.
He is raising money for Search Dogs Buckinghamshire. To sponsor him visit https://mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/ haltontothehimalayas.
For more information on the charity visit www.searchdogsbucks.org.uk or www.facebook.com/SearchDogsBucks.
I love the dogs, I love the team,
it’s a fantastic and worthwhile
thing to do’
PART OF A TEAM: Search Dogs Buckinghamshire work with Thames Valley Police to search for missing or vulnerable people
NOT JUST ONE MAN AND HIS DOG: Paul Westwell, pictured with Jasper, says volunteering for the search dogs charity is very rewarding