Not many people can say they have helped with murder inquiries, helicopter disasters or missing persons probes – not many dogs can, either.
Border collie Taz is the senior search dog for Trossachs Search and Rescue. Along with handler Gayle Wilde, from Kilsyth, he has been with the team almost nine years.
Gayle and Taz are on call 365 days a year and receive no pay for their work.
At this year’s Crufts, Taz is nominated in the Extraordinary Life of a Working Dog category of the Friends for Life awards. The winner will be announced on Sunday. Gayle, who also works as a student counsellor and dog trainer, believes the secret is that it’s all a bit of fun: “He’s a pet who loves playing a game, which happens to be finding people.”
Taz was picked up off the streets as a puppy after being thrown out and Gayle adopted him at about four months old.
She said: “There was an instant connection, and then I saw the search and rescue team do a demonstration and thought, let’s try that out.”
Training a search and rescue dog takes between 18 months and three years, with training including abseiling.
Gayle said: “You think he doesn’t know what the whole thing’s about, but when you’ve been called out you see a very different dog. He goes into work mode and switches up a gear.” The most memorable call out was the Clutha helicopter disaster in Glasgow in 2013, as they were tasked with searching the building for casualties.
Working in dark and dangerous conditions, Gayle and Taz located every victim.
She said: “I have never been so proud of that dog. That’s when you really see the training come to its absolute fore.
“Part of his role is also meeting the public, and certainly after that incident there was a lot of media interest.
“He turned into a therapy dog for a lot of the families involved, and I think in a small way, it probably helped them process what happened.
“When you see him work, you just stop and go, oh wow.”
You can vote on the Crufts website. The victor will receive £5000 from the Kennel Club Charitable Trust to donate to a dog charity of their choice and runners-up £1000.