Helen Riddell meets one of only three fully qualified search and rescue dogs in Ireland, who has recently hung up her high vis jacket after being retired by her devoted handler, in Beara
ONE of only three fully certified Search and Rescue dogs in the country has retired after almost eight years of service.
Koiru, a collie labrador cross who lives in Cahermore, Beara with her handler Pauliina Kauppila, first qualified with the Search and Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) in 2010, and since then has been on numerous call-outs in Beara and around the country with Pauliina.
Koiru has just turned 13, and while still in good health, she is starting to suffer from joint problems.
As Pauliina says: ‘She still has the drive, but recently I could see that when we climb Hungry Hill, for example, she would be very stiff afterwards, so I knew it was time to retire her.’
Koiru’s last official call-out was in May when the dog team was tasked to go to Lough Hyne in Skibbereen for a search. However, they were stood down en route when the missing person was located safe and well.
Originally from Finland, Pauliina, a self-employed software/IT translator, has been living in Beara since 2002 and has been a member of the Castletownbere Coast Guard team for 14 years. The Castletownbere team is unique in that as well as cliff and coastal rescue, they can also be tasked to mountain rescue incidents, due to the nature of Beara’s terrain.
Pauliina has owned Koiru (her name is Finnish for ‘dog’) since she was a puppy. ‘She was one of a litter of eight. I knew the lady whose dog had the puppies in Allihies and I picked Koiru – with great difficulty, as all of them were very cute!’
When Koiru was about two years old, Pauliina decided to start training her as a search and rescue dog. ‘I kind of stumbled upon it by accident. Noel Murphy, who was a paramedic in Castletownbere at the time, told me about SARDA and suggested I try training Koiru. She has a very strong play drive, which is an essential attribute as the search work is essentially a game for the dog.’
Pauliina trained Koiru independently for a couple of years before joining SARDA, the only search dog training body which is recognised by the Coast Guard.
It usually takes two or three years to train a dog with SARDA and the training is intense with a rigorous assessment process. It also includes an obedience test and a stock test to ensure they are safe around livestock and will not harass them, nor be distracted by them.
In March 2010, Koiru officially qualified with SARDA. Even when qualified, training and evaluation is ongoing, and the pair have also passed two other required assessments since then. Explaining why there aren’t currently more qualified dogs in SARDA, Pauliina said: ‘It is a tough physical and mental process and you need the right handler and the right dog. But we have a few promising young dogs at the moment, so hopefully we’ll get some more on the call-out list before the end of the year.’
As to whether she would consider training a new dog, Pauliina said: ‘No, not at the moment. I wouldn’t have a puppy just yet. Koiru is great with people, but she wouldn’t like a pesky puppy around her, so it wouldn’t be fair on her.’
However, Pauliina is still very much involved with SARDA. ‘They are a great bunch of people, and I will continue to assist them in training new dogs and taking part in training exercises.’