An Authorised Firearms Officer (AFO) from the Civil Nuclear Constabulary (CNC) is well on his way to training his dog Hamish to become a fully trained mountain rescue search dog, on top of his day job at Dounreay.
Hamish, a one year old Belgian Shepherd, belongs to PC Glenn Bennett. Glenn is based at Dounreay and joined the CNC in April 2013, after a 30 year career in the army, where he served in the Falkland Islands, Bosnia, Kosovo, Cambodia, Iraq and Afghanistan. It was while serving in the army that Glenn developed a love for the hills and he qualified as a Joint Service Mountain Expedition Leader and Rock Climbing Instructor.
When Glenn left the army in 2010, he was working in Yorkshire when he heard of the CNC and applied, becoming an AFO in April 2013. Dounreay was his first choice of location as it meant he would be based in the Scottish highlands with plenty of mountains to climb.
Once settled in his new job and home, Glenn began volunteering for Scottish Mountain Rescue as he wanted to help fellow climbers and walkers who may be in difficulties in mountainous environments, utilising his mountaineering and dog handling skills to their full. He also joined the Assynt Mountain Rescue Team (AMRT) and, after completing a two year period with the team, successfully applied to and joined the Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) Scotland.
As part of his volunteering, PC Bennett and Hamish attend monthly training sessions with AMRT and SARDA, which cover mountain first aid, navigation, off road driving, helicopter drills, and rope work for the lowering of stretchers on steep ground. Hamish’s training involves completing gradually harder searches for people on the mountainside, currently completing blind searches of an area 200 metres square where a person is hidden from view. He can pick up the scent of the person from about 150 metres away and will then run to the body, where he barks until Glenn arrives and gives him his ball as a reward.
PC Bennett said: “I chose Hamish, or Hammy as I call him, when he was only three weeks old and collected him seven weeks later. It was obviously far too early to assess his suitability as a search dog, but I was not wrong in my choice and Hamish has proven himself to be an excellent companion and search dog.
“He only began his training in April 2016 but is well on his way to becoming a ‘novice search dog’, before he becomes a fully qualified search dog in March 2018. As an AFO, I work shifts in a physically and mentally demanding role and being on call 24/7 for rescues in my local area takes a great deal of commitment but it is worth it to know that Hamish and I are ready to help with any searches needed to find people in difficulty in the mountains.”
The AMRT covers all of Sutherland and Caithness and SARDA Scotland covers the whole of northern Scotland, effectively everything north of the central belt of Edinburgh and Glasgow. To find out more about their work, visit the AMRT website and the SARDA website