A friend indeed
By Sierra Countis, Sierra Sun
SQUAW VALLEY — Murphy, a 3-month-old golden retriever, is a fourth-generation ski patrol dog at Squaw Valley USA. But, like any rambunctious puppy, Murphy seemed blissfully unaware of the avalanche training going on around him Wednesday morning as he sat in the snow and gnawed on his leash. “He’s on fire” with excitement, said Murphy’s handler, Eric Seelenfreund of Squaw Valley’s ski patrol.
Starting out with simple lessons, Murphy practiced “puppy runaway” drills, where Seelenfreund would hide in a snow cave and let the young pup find him.
Twelve ski patrol dogs and their handlers from Squaw Valley and other area resorts joined Murphy and Rasco, his golden retriever sire, during a week-long training and certification event with the Placer County Avalanche Canine Team.
Using dogs to rescue avalanche victims “really came to fruition within the last two to three years,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Sgt. Dan Ingalls. In the past, area resorts haven’t had a certified canine team as a resource for avalanche searches, Ingalls said. Response time is critical for such rescues, he said.
“One canine team is just as effective as 45 searchers,” Ingalls said.
Craig Noble, head of the avalanche dog program at Squaw Valley, agrees that using ski patrol dogs to locate a victim caught in an avalanche is highly effective. Noble said the ski patrol dogs “are sort of like an insurance program.”