Kootenay Canine - Cheers to Charity Recipient

Just like that, it’s March 1st, and with a new month comes a new Cheers to Charity recipient.

We are currently supporting the Kootenay Canine Rescue Dog Association, which helps with the financial costs associated with working with avalanche rescue dogs.

We sat down with Megan and Steve to chat all things avalanche dogs this past Friday. It’s safe to say the team were stoked on the gorgeous Mogul and young pup Sadie. Nothing quite makes a Friday morning at work like the surprise arrival of two dogs.

We’d like to say a huge thank you to Megan and Steve for coming down to talk to us, especially right ahead of Megan and Mogul heading off for their annual test to become validated for the fifth time in Mogul’s career.

Even just spending a short time in the company of Megan and Steve, it’s clear how important their dogs are to them and how deep the relationship between handler and dog go. We really enjoyed this conversation and we hope you do to!


Fernie Brewing Co.: Welcome Megan and Steve and thanks for bringing along your four-legged friends today, Mogul and Sadie! Why don’t you start by telling us a bit about yourselves, your dogs and the work of the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dogs Association (CARDA).

Megan: I’m Megan Kelly, and I’m the Assistant Ski Patrol Director at Fernie Alpine Resort (FAR). I’ve been a ski patroller for thirteen years and I was inspired to get a Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog from watching Steve, Jen and other handlers with their dogs. I did lots of training with them when I was a younger patroller, and I really wanted to join Search and Rescue (SAR) and have a dog that could come to work and make a difference. I love dogs and the idea that you could have a dog at work with you, that could potentially save a life, or help a family, was important to me. I got Mogul my German Shepard five years ago, he’s about to turn six on March 23rd, he’s a certified Avalanche Rescue Dog and a Wilderness Search Dog with the British Columbia Search Dog Association (BCSDA); so he represents both associations.

Steve: I’m Steve Morrison, and I’ve been a ski patroller for twenty-five years here in Fernie, thirty-six years total. Sadie my current dog is a CARDA hopeful, pending testing in the Spring. She’s just eighteen weeks old and her birthday is October 23rd.


FBC.: Steve, Sadie’s obviously pretty new to you, how do you come about a new puppy to train for avalanche rescue? Are there specific breeders you always use?

Steve: So, everything started with my sister’s dog (she had a black Labrador) and the breeder that they came from. My sister lives in Whistler and when I was just about to finish with my first dog, I asked my sister’s breeder if they wanted to do a donation program because CARDA is a charitable organisation. Since then there must be 10-12 dogs between CARDA and BCSDA that all came from that same breeder.

Sadie has the same dad as my previous dog Neko, and my sister’s dog, so I think that’s a strong lineage.


FBC.: What qualities are you looking for in a young pup?

Megan: When we’re looking for a CARDA dog we’re looking for drive, but drive is different from energy. It’s ok if the dog has energy, but what we’re looking for is a dog that will push through adversity, push through challenges, to do the job that we’re training for.

Prey drive is if a cat runs, or a person runs, to want to chase. But the trick for us is that with avalanche, the dog’s not seeing anything run away, so then we’re looking for hunt drive, the ability to look with their nose. To push through big blocky debris, challenging weather conditions etc. to look for their prize - that prize being human scent. That’s what we’re training them to find.


FBC.: Are there certain breeds of dog that are going to make great avalanche dogs?

Steve: I’d say the majority are German Shepherds, Labs, Golden Retrievers, Border Collies. There have been a couple of Australian Shepherds and some Malinois (Belgian Shepherds). Retrieving breeds, working lines, are the best. Pure bred tend to be the best, but there have been some really great mixed breeds.

Megan: Pure bred are just more predictable especially if you’re a first-time handler. You can go to the breeder, look at their dog’s lineage, see that they are working in SAR already etc. it’s just more proven. But saying that, if you’re an experienced handler and you meet a puppy, you might get this feeling like, ‘Ok this dog has the stuff that I think will make it’.


FBC.: What’s the process for getting an Avalanche Rescue Dog?

Megan: So first you must be a member of a SAR organisation, and/or work for a mountain operation e.g. a ski hill. It’s about a two-year process, starting with you picking your puppy. Then you go to a Spring training course that is put on by CARDA , you get your dog assessed by the instructors and they (hopefully) say your dog is good to go. Then you go to a Winter training course where your instructors teach you the basics of training an Avalanche Rescue Dog, and then you practice with your dog for the whole of that next year. Then hopefully, that following Winter you pass the test on the course.

Steve: Every year you must retest and revalidate.


FBC.: Who else is there alongside you guys in Fernie working with avalanche rescue dogs?

Megan: At FAR you have Steve and myself, then you have Paul with a young Border Collie named Drift. We have Sean and Taber, who are about to do their third validation today as well. Then you have Kurt with a yellow Labrador doing his eighth or ninth test today. Then there’s also Jen who has a Malinois who will be doing her eighth test at some point later this year.


FBC.: How are you guys supported financially?

Megan: SAR, FAR and CARDA give us great support, but these are our animals so we have to cover insurance, food, training costs etc. so this organisation (Kootenay Canine) really helps us cover those additional costs, primarily our insurance costs year round for the dogs.

Steve: As you can imagine, considering the nature of the work these dogs do, our insurance is pretty expensive, and then you can also have additional incidental costs.


FBC.: What different aspects of SAR and ski patrol are these dogs helping with?

Megan: When these dogs are at the ski hill they’re kennelled for most of the day. Of course, we let them out and play with them and train them, but they’re there encase of an avalanche so they can respond. Then through SAR they can also be deployed in the back country.

Steve: I’d say the best chance for a live recovery at the ski hill – because people aren’t necessarily wearing transceivers – is with the dogs. The dogs are a major lifeline for either completing a rescue or at least bringing closure to families.

Megan: Mogul and I are also on the longline team. We can be flown into avalanches either in the helicopter or longlined in under the helicopter. This allows SAR to get to people in really tough places.

Steve: Actually, last year one of our handlers in Golden went to a major avalanche accident, and it was too dangerous for the handler to land, so he landed his dog and then searched his dog while he was still longlined from the helicopter. It was the first rescue that I’ve ever heard of being executed in that way.

Megan: I think that brings up a good point. Mogul and I have our yearly test today, but we don’t train for the test, we train for real life. We’re training to search for live people, under the snow, in avalanches, on glaciers and I think that’s the cool thing about CARDA is that it’s always moving forward. It’s always trying to stay up to date, use the technology and create really professional handlers and dogs.


FBC.: You have both made a career out of this and while it’s not always a forgiving job and comes with major challenges, you clearly both love it.

Steve: Like Megan said we get to bring our dogs to work which is awesome.

Megan: My biggest surprise about being a CARDA handler has been really getting into dog training. The challenge of raising a puppy that will work independently of you, but then listen to you when needed. It’s created a passion for me.

FBC.: Thank you guys so much that was wonderful to learn more and great to have the dogs visit the team too!


You can support Kootenay Canine in the Tasting Room by purchasing a sample flight of beers. All profits from sample flights sold through March will go to Kootenay Canine. 

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