My name is Don Murphy and I am a member of SARDA since 1987. Prior to joining SARDA I had been training dogs for a few years in the Shutzund system. We were surprised to find that not only did we have to train the dogs in search work but we also had to socialise them to a very high degree as well as stock proofing getting them used to all types of situations as well as training ourselves in mountaineering and hill walking. To this end we joined the Killarney Mountaineering Club and embarked on a journey we never really expected but which gave us a great new experience that brought us many good friends and many memorable experiences. When we started this journey in 1987 we had minimum equipment poor raingear which tended to leak at the first sign of rain. As for the bodies (those hiding on the dogs) an orange plastic bag and possibly a ground mat was luxury!
When I look at a typical SARDA training weekend I often smile to myself! Everyone is decked out in GoreTex high specification boots, the bodies have GoreTex bivy bags with fleece liners and top class ground mats, radios, rucksacks etc… In the early day’s communication was via hand signals, now we use radios that have miles of coverage and many channels. But what we lacked in equipment we made up for in spirit and enthusiasm and in many ways they were the best days for me.
From 1987 on wards we travelled to Kerry religiously every Sunday to train. In 1990 I qualified my first dog Rizzo.
Rizzo, a German Shepard, was about three years old when his training changed from the Shutzund to SARDA training. He adapted well and his first assessment was in the Lake District in England. Memories of this period included Rizzo indicating in an area where I know we had nobody hiding, upon investigation he led me to a hole in the ground where I could see something moving in side it. It was a sheep trapped. It surely would have died if Rizzo had not alerted me to his plight and rescued it. On another occasion, just before assessment whilst training with the Kerry Mountain Rescue Team he alerted to a rucksack at the bottom of crags, on further investigation after members climbed down the crag, the body of a climber was found, he had been missing for 6 months.
Once qualified, life changed with many late night call outs all over the country, however, life for Rizzo was short lived as he fell to his death off a ridge on Mount Brandon in Dingle, Co. Kerry. His death was made more poignant by the fact that we were responding to a call that turned out to be a hoax. In recognition for his bravery, Rizzo was awarded the Bounce Dog Food Bravery Award that year.
My next dog was Ben, a fine border collie who came from Cronin’s yard, a stones throw from Carrauntoohil. Ben trained for a short time with Rizzo and learned quite a bit from Rizzo. He was very quick to learn and before he turned two he was a qualified search dog. Ben proved over the years to be one of the best search dogs in the country and I was very fortunate to have worked with him. He died Easter Sunday morning 2001. Aged 11 ½ years. He had a great life travelling all over Ireland and the UK always giving his all and never giving up no matter how tired he was or how difficult the conditions. One of Ben’s saddest finds was on a mountain area called Connor Pass in Dingle Co Kerry where he located the body of a young boy who had fallen to his death. Ben located the boy’s body at around 1am on a cold wet and foggy night which summed up the atmosphere on the occasion.
My Subsequent dog, Oscar, a lab collie cross a great bubbly character who loved food and company proved to be very eager early on but as training progressed his interest in stock proved to much and did his hunting instinct so I reluctantly retired him. He is now happily living in a new home as a family pet.
My current dog Ben (again!) was born in may of 2004. He came from a farm in West Cork and his father is a working cattle dog. Initially he was quite shy but at this stage he has come out of himself. His training is progressing well and he recently passed his stock test.and has also passed his obedience test . He has a long road ahead of him but he is doing well so far.
My own time in SARDA since 1987 has seen me become a member of the Kerry Mountain Rescue team and from a single man, now I am married with children, I too have come a long way! As long as there is a demand for properly trained search dogs and I get enjoyment and fulfilment out of Mountain Rescue and Mountain Rescue dogs I will continue to work to the SARDA mission statement “dedicated to the training and deployment of Search Dogs”.