Friday, 8 October 2010

A funny way to spend an evening...

Here's something to try:  Go into the garden at 6 o'clock tonight and find yourself a nice knobbly bit of lawn. Put an empty garden compost bag down. On top of that, put a sit mat and sit on it; then recline with your shoulders and head resting comfortably on, say, a rucksack. Stay there until twenty past eight, watching the sun go down and the stars come out.
If you replace 'lawn' with 'marshy Lakeland fell', you'll get an idea of how I spent last evening. I had my first proper experience of 'bodying'for the Lake District Mountain Rescue Dogs, (see earlier blog). My job was to make myself comfortable 'hidden' behind some clumps of rushes and wait for the brilliant dogs to find me.
It was a beautiful evening. The sky was largely clear, but as the sun set, it set on fire a huge bank of cloud blown in by the cool easterly breeze. I lay back, comfortable and relaxed.
My radio squawked into life. It was Ollie, who was directing the night's training: "Ollie to Body Steve - Einich (dog) and Joy (handler) are on their way. Don't do anything. Play dead". "Body Steve to Ollie. Copy that. Play dead".
I lay back and watched the shadows creeping up the hill opposite. Within seconds I heard panting and the drum of footsteps and Einich, a border collie, thundered in, ran over me, licked my face and sat by my right ear barking furiously - just as she was supposed to do. A few minutes later, Joy hove into view and we both extravagantly praised Einich and rewarded her with a few throws of a tennis ball which she absolutely loves. In this way she learns that finding people is the quite best fun she can possibly have in her life.
Pretty soon she was off - there were two more 'bodies' out there to find - and I resumed my tranquil observation of the waning light and rising stars. It was so beautiful.
And so the evening passed, with Einich being followed by Sam (a large, very handsome border collie with the most almighty loud bark) and Kitt (a small border collie but so fast and agile and incredibly intelligent). It went dark and got colder as the breeze picked up. I put my hood up and my gloves on and watched as the handler's headtorches pinpricked the darkness.
The dogs all found me on the way back. This time I could sense them coming by hearing the panting and the footsteps and by seeing the flashing red lights on the backs of the special jackets they wear.
At about eight twenty it was over. Pack up, headtorch on and trudge back to the car with the other bodies, comparing notes; "Were you cold?", "Did you get midged?", "Did Sam bark as he should?".
What a brilliant introduction to this fascinating world. Training continues year round, through rain, snow, hail and gales. And I hope to be out there with them, lying on the ground for them to find.  For them it's play, but of course it's critical play. The dogs have already been called out 56 times this year. And the nights are drawing in...


  1. wow hf..what a top way to spend your time..collies are just the best..will you be getting one yourself i wonder...

  2. absolutely fascinating. hope you've got some good winter gear ;) they're such clever dogs. i would love to have a collie companion if we could.