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Meet the team: Brian and Jib

Our operational team member Brian joined AMRT in 2005, but he has also been a search dog handler with Search and Research Dog Association (SARDA) Scotland since 2011. Brian’s four-year-old collie, Jib, joins Brian on his callouts with AMRT and has been qualified as a search dog since 2018.

Talking about his role with SARDA Scotland, Brian said: “SARDA Scotland is part of the wider Scottish Mountain Rescue organisation, and trains dogs and their handlers to work as a unit to search for missing people in the mountains. Most of the handlers are also members of local mountain rescue teams, so these dogs automatically gain a 'home' team. However, Jib and I can be deployed separately through SARDA to assist in searches and it's not unusual for those callouts to be quite far away from the Aberdeen team's home patch.”

Jib is Brian’s second search dog who he has had since she was a young puppy: “I've had Jib since she was an eight-week-old pup, so she has grown up used to the training and loves the game of looking for people. Her only challenge is waiting for the slow human (me) to keep up! I always take Jib along to a team callout even if a dog is not specifically requested; callouts tend to 'evolve', so a situation that initially may not be thought to require a dog might in fact need one by the time we reach the area. The classic situation is someone requesting assistance thinking that they know their location, but not actually being where they think they are. Then the simple assistance call immediately becomes a search.”

Jib’s scenting abilities and mobility on the hill mean that she can often do the work of multiple human searchers in a much faster timeframe, Brian said: “Her scenting ability extends to detecting people that would otherwise be well hidden in heather, amongst boulders, or even buried under snow - the last of which is potentially an important advantage during winters like we’ve just had. With the assistance of HM Coastguard, all SARDA dogs are familiarised with travelling by helicopter and being winched along with their handlers for rapid deployment if the situation requires it.”

Brian and JibAnd it’s not only Brian who needs specialist kit for callouts, Jib also has her own equipment to keep her safe on the hills: “Although Jib is well able to stay warm while moving, just like me she needs food to stay fuelled up and an insulating layer in case we need to go static for a period of rest. She also has a full body harness for helicopter winching or abseiling and goggles to protect her eyes from windblown ice and snow. But her most used gear is the work jacket, which tells her that it’s time to play the search game. And the toy that is the reward for finding people!”

In his 15 years with AMRT, Brian has found that “all callouts are memorable for different reasons but, for me, the one common thread running through them all is just how harsh the elements can be, especially once you stop moving. During one very cold winter's night, we were searching the Angel's Peak and Cairn Toul area for missing walkers and as we hunkered down for an hour's rest at around 4am, the wind really started to batter the group shelter that half a dozen of us were occupying. That moment really brought home the conditions the missing persons were enduring but thankfully they were found safe early the next morning. Even seemingly benign weather can rapidly change and shows just how much we rely on movement, insulation and food to stay warm.”

For those considering joining a mountain rescue team, Brian said: “The best thing about being in a mountain rescue team is undoubtedly the people - and the dogs! But for people considering joining a team, I think it's important to recognise that there is a considerable time commitment involved in training, as well as in callouts. That commitment is also made in a less obvious way by partners, families and work colleagues, who have to take up the slack while we are gone.

“As well as time commitment, a large rucksack is a must-have! Our patch covers a wide area with some very remote terrain and once you're deployed you may be out there for 24 hours or more. You not only need the kit to look after yourself but also any people found on the callout.”

Although all members undergo rigorous training and are provided with the necessary kit, Brian believes that a team mentality is the most important element of being part of AMRT: “The training isn't just about individual skills, it's about learning how the team works and really getting to know the people you will be working with. Training together means everyone works to the same processes, knows what to expect and understands what is expected of them. It sounds obvious, but the strength of a team is in people working well together. Those long 24-hour searches are where shared knowledge and a team mentality really matter, so that we can all look out for one another as well as the people that we’re there to help.”