Dog Days of Winter

A day in the life of a patrol hound.

When will he wake up? It must be time to go! I’ve been up and waiting all night to go to work, but I don’t have thumbs, so I can’t drive myself. Come on! We have to go! I’m going to jump on the bed. Then he’ll get up and realize the team needs me, and we’ve got to go we’ve got to go we’ve got to go. It snowed last night, didn’t it? That means they really need me.

I should introduce myself. My name is Kirby, and I am a ski-patrol avalanche dog. I go to work every day in hopeful anticipation of being called to duty, to show my skill and determination in finding someone’s scent under the snow and digging them up with the help of my patrol buddies. I love my patrol team and my job more than anything! You could say I live for this.

Oh good, he’s finally up—now we can go to work. First we have to pick up some of our patrol buddies. Here I am again, shoved in the hatchback of an old Subaru, laying on top of all these pungent avalanche packs. I guess I’ll just take a nap till we get to work.

When I nap I usually dream about working. I remember what it was like when I first started. I was almost two years old, and really eager to please. The first part of my training lasted a whole year. My handler and I attended obedience classes so that I could learn how to behave like a “professional.” This was boring at first, but I figured it out pretty quick and became real good at it. Eventually my handler didn’t even have to tell me what to do—I could anticipate what he wanted, and could offer it right up. That part was pretty easy.

The next part of the training was my favorite. It lasted another year and taught me how to use my sense of smell to detect human scent under the snow. That’s how I find people who are buried. The training started off easy but became harder and harder. I remember my first find. One of my patrol buddies was buried. I found his scent and alerted on it. My handler and I dug him up and he jumped out of the snow with my favorite toy! We got to play tug-of-war with my toy and it was the most fun I had ever had in my whole life! Later on that season, I trained on doing multiple finds. This was hard because I just wanted to keep playing with the first buddy I would find, but then I realized that if I kept searching, I could find even more buddies and play with them too.

I love finding my buddies. When my handler says “Kirby, search,” I put my nose down and start smelling for clues. I use the wind and my intuition to search the whole area. I smell some faint scent here and there, but I’m really interested in scent that gets stronger as I dig down to it. I know I’m onto something—the smell gets stronger, and I know I’m getting closer. My paws are working hard and I’m barking and then I find my buddy. That part is the best.

We finally get to work. I just have to put my vest on, then sit around and listen to a bunch of boring talks.

Finally, the meetings are over and we’re on the chairlift. All we have to do is get on another chairlift, board the tram and ride it to the summit, and we are at the office: ready to deploy! I’m always ready to deploy, but I guess I’ll just hang out in the dog corner with all the blankets and take a nap.  Maybe Dana’s handler will take us outside and we can play with one of our toys. Maybe I’ll get to go on a training drill and dig someone up. Maybe they will really need my skills today. I’ll just take a nap till they need me.

I love coming up here with all my patrol buddies. We’re a real family. I’m a real part of this team. I watch out for him and my patrol buddies and they watch out for me.

Now it’s time to get outside! This is one of my favorite times of day. I get to run with my handler in between his skis. Sometimes we go all the way down to the locker room together. My handler worries that this is bad on my knees and shoulders, so sometimes we take a snowmobile down. But I like running way more.

So here we are, hanging out in the locker room. I guess I’ll just take another nap until it’s time to go home. Hooray, it’s snowing! I can’t wait to do this all again tomorrow.