SARDA Former Members

SARDA Former Members

Brian Haskins

Brian is pictured here with his dog Cas. Brian was involved with Sarda Ireland for many years. He is a qualified paramedic and is currently based in the Dublin area.

In spring 2011, Brian and his family will be immigrating to Australia. Sarda would like to thank Brian for all his hard work in the organisation and wish him and his family good luck in the future!

Fergus Sharkey

Fergus and his dog Bess. Here is his story.

My involvement with SARDA started in 1996 when on a search operation in the Wicklow mountains, with the Glen of Imaal Mountain Rescue Team. This was the first time I had ever seen the Mountain Rescue Dogs in action. I was extremely impressed with speed and efficiently with which the dogs searched the difficult terrain, I thought to myself this could be for me!!!

I joined SARDA as a “Dogsbody” and learned how the Search Dogs worked. I spent plenty of long wet, cold, windy and sunny days lying on the tops and sides of mountains and enjoyed every minute of it. I did not make the decision to train a search dog lightly. Because I could see the commitment and dedication that was required to be a qualified search and rescue dog handler.

In June 1997 I decided to start on the long and hard road to becoming a Search Dog Handler. I was on the look out for the right pup for a long time and then in August 97, I came across Bess, a sixteen week old border collie, she was from a working back round with her mother and father both sheep dog champions. I bought Bess from a sheep farmer in County Wicklow. So we became a team from day one.

Over the next three years we trained extremely hard to qualify as a Search Dog Team. First we completed an obedience training course with the North Side Dog training training Club in Dublin. Bess toped the class and won a trophy for best over all dog. We then went on to complete our live stock training and then we were tested and passed. We travelled over to England and Scotland on a number training courses with SARDA Lakes and Wales. Under instruction from SARDA Irelands qualified dog handlers we clocked up a lot of hours training on the Wicklow, Kerry, Galway and Commeragh Mountains. In November 2000 we both qualified after three long wet and hard days of assessment. The pressure and tension you are under during this assessment is quite unbelievable, years of hard work resting on three days of assessment on the mountains. We passed because it was a joint effort from myself and Bess and we proved to the assessors that we worked very well as a team and were more then capable to carry out long search and rescue operations. Since then we have kept busy throughout the years on both mountain and urban searches. As we live in Kildare Town we are ideally placed to quick access to all the major routes to respond to that call for assistance any were in Ireland. Now, we go every where together, she evens comes to work with me.

When we are not running up and down mountains, she lives at home with the family, if you did not know she was a Mountain Rescue Search Dog you would think that she was just another family pet. Bess tells me it’s a great life for a dog.

N.B Due to family and work commitments Fergus and Bess have taken a sabbatical from Sarda and all mountain rescue work. What the future holds for this pair we don’t know. But for the time, effort and dedication they gave over the years we in Sarda are extremely grateful, they attained a standard that all search dog teams should aspire to. Rumour has it that Bess and Fergus are likely to re-appear on the scene shortly as it is they have one footpaw in the profile page!

Gary Daly

Gary & Zeus joined SARDA Ireland in late 2002, Zeus, a German Shepard worked hard. Before joining SARDA Gary and Zeus had been training for a few years independently of SARDA. Gary and Zeus were looking forward to their first assessment for Novice SAR Dog in November 2003. Unfortunately, this was not to be. Zeus died after a short illness in September 2003, he will be sadly missed. Gary is attached to the South Eastern Mountain Rescue Team along with three other Sarda members

Gary now has another German Shepard dog, Apollo, who he hopes to train as a Search Dog. He won’t replace Zeus but he will be just as welcome.

Recent reports from Gary say that Apollo is doing well in his training.

Joan Goodwin

Joan joined SARDA Ireland in 2000, has one dog, Wynn. Joan and Wynn face their Novice SAR Dog assessment next year. Here is their story.

Winston or Wynn to his friends is a retriever cross. Wynn was rescued in Smithfield Horse Market at approx 6 week old along with his brother Louie. Both pups were in very poor condition covered with mange and severely malnourished. With lot of TLC it wasn’t long before they blossomed into two beautiful happy young dogs.

Wynn and I have been part of SARDA for the past 3-½ years and thoroughly enjoys training weekends. Wynn’s willingness to work in all weathers and his honesty and reliability has made my job very enjoyable especially when my team mate always has a happy smiley face.

Wynn’s first port of call is a much-loved family pet, the fact that he also excels as a potential search and rescue dog is a very big plus and I realise what a truly special pal he really is.

Liz Alderton

I have been involved with training and working labrador retrievers since 1991, and commenced training a dog for search and rescue in 2006.

When I started training Liffey for search and rescue I nearly despaired. She was so good at fnding people, and really enjoyed her work, but she would not bark. Fortunately Don suggested that I find another way of indication for her and after considerable research (I discussed alternative indication methods with experienced handlers both here in Ireland and in the UK and read about the ‘bringsel’ method used by search dog handlers in Europe) Liffey and I have together achieved a reliable indication of a find.

Liffey genuinely likes people and will find a person herself, performing her search pattern with little intervention from me. To make sure of good area coverage, I have taught her to respond to directional control away from me and so don’t have to walk so far myself. She ranges long distances and often makes a find many hundreds of yards from me and out of sight. Liffey is a very gentle dog and on finding a person will give them a very quick nuzzle (sometimes they don’t even notice) and then return to me to grab her ball which I carry attached to my clothing. She then leads me back to the ‘body’, returning to me again and again if I don’t keep up with her (though I try to save her legs at this point by following her to the person as quickly as I can).

Why does she do this? Basically she wants her ball game, and having found that her target person has no ball to play with, she comes to get the ball from me and returns to the person proudly carrying her trophy ready for the game. Well, at least that’s what I think she thinks! Anyway, it works.

Liffey has reached the stage now where her indication is never induced by me and I am confident that she will always tell me when she has located a person. This makes training much more interesting for both of us as we are now working large areas with the body locations never known. The new challenges this presents are more related to me the handler now, as I learn how to make sure the area is covered by Liffey. I also have to learn how to keep her motivated for long periods and how to conserve her energy, especially in hot conditions.


Liz is now training Sceilg, aged 3. Sceilg and Liz took the assessment in March 2010 and Sceilg successfully found 13 people over the two days, hunting for a total of 9 hours. Her hunting prowess was superb with strikes of many 100’s of yards, often unseen by her handler. She consistently indicated these to Liz even though Sceilg had had to run back from out of sight. Since Liz is not part of mountain rescue the team did not pass. They are now awaiting the opportunity to take a lowland assessment so that they may assist in locating missing people in the type of terrain that covers most of Ireland.

Marie-Jo Thauvin

This is the Louis and Marie-Jo team

I am a Springer Spaniel from Co Wexford with loads of attitude. Marie-Jo has had a keen interest in both mountaineering and dog training for the past 15 years. She tells me that Snowdonia used to be her “play ground” and she would occasionally see people with search dogs there and think that it was a very good idea.

She moved to Ireland in the heart of Co Wicklow which afforded her the time to go about combining both interests by joining SARDA Ireland. (Thank you Brian, our first trainer)

We have been training since 2007 and so far we are progressing well (with lots of help from all in SARDA) though as usual… the more you know, the more you realise there is to learn… we both wish the learning was as speedy as me when I’ve picked up a scent…

So, watch this space for our progress.

Shay Coyne

Shay Coyne, Dublin: I have been a member of SARDA Ireland for 2 years. I work as a firefighter in the Dublin Fire Brigade, within this role, I am also a qualified Emergency Medical Technician and Swift Water Rescue Technician. I feel these are great skills to bring to SARDA.

After learning the skills and importance of being a body with SARDA, I introduced my first dog Max, a Border Collie Lab cross who showed great potential but circumstances prevented his advancement.

I decided to get another dog, Champ, whom I got from the ISPCA. He is a Border Collie/Human (well he thinks he is) cross. He’s doing well in training and is just coming out of the puppy stage so a big improvement is expected this year.

Shay’s wife gave birth recently so look forward to updates soon!

Shelli Callan

Hi I’m Shelli. I stumbled across SARDA by accident and joined in April 2007 and after bodying for a few months and getting the hang of how search dogs work I got a sheepdog cross whose name is Jesse (and yes he is a boy!!)

Jesse and I are both learning (him quicker then me I’m afraid!) and are progresing well with the help of the brilliant SARDA team!

Sinead Crimmins

My name is Sinead Crimmins, I am from Co. Clare. In 2001 I decided to get my first dog, a working dog to train to do something worth while like voluntary work. Search and Rescue seemed to be the obvious choice.

One thing led to another and after many phone calls I finally tracked down Don Murphy from SARDA Ireland. I contacted Don and he invited me to Cork to see how the dogs work. After the demonstration I was sure this was the line of voluntary work I wanted to do with my dog.

I got BEN in August 2001.I started basic training for a few months leading up to his second birthday. Initially, we had to teach Ben to indicate or bark on command.

Since then, he has learned that people hide and he has to find them and when he does, they will play with him and give him a treat. A typical characteristic of Labs is their love for food so I train Ben with food rather than a toy. Now, Ben knows when his jacket is put on the there is someone in the area that is hiding with a treat for him and he will find them, indicate when he finds them and I will follow him to that location where he will be rewarded for the find.

Ben seems to love this game and as long as he does, we will continue to work hard at becoming a voluntary Search and Rescue Dog Team.

The help and guidance we have received to date from everyone is what makes our endeavours possible… Thank you to family, friends and everyone in SARDA Ireland for their guidance and support! I will keep you updated on our progress regularly.

Denis Gough

Denis and his dog ‘Bonzo’. I am from County Cork. I joined the Sarda family in January 2004. I had to be “dog’s body” for the next 6 months in all weathers, during which I learned a lot about dogs and how they searched. I started training my first dog, a German shepherd “Ben”. I retired him to a lovely home in North Cork after two years as he was not suited for search work.

For the next year I continued to body for Sarda helping my colleagues train their dogs.

Since 2004 I’ve completed my first aid course, mountain skills course, search skills course, search management course, radio handler’s course, water safety course, and a VHF radio course. I’ve also done a dog trainer’s course and dog behavioural handler’s course.

After a while I purchased my present dog, an 8-week old collie/spaniel cross “Bonzo”. I took him on his first training weekend to Doolin as a 14-week old pup just to socialise him. Since then he passed both his obedience and stock tests. Training is going real well with Bonzo. But I just need to work on my own skills.

I continue to learn more and more from my fellow team members each day, and hope to qualify in the near future. I am a full member of Sarda where the team-work and craic is second to none.

Trevor Hornibrook

Trevor Hornibrook says that after rescuing a 2 year old German Shepard Zac from the animals home in 2002 I joined Sarda hoping to train him as a search and rescue dog . Unfortunately because of serious neglect and mistreatment by previous owners Zac wasn’t the ideal candidate for training . So we just decided to keep him as a pet, but at this stage I was very much involved in the work of the handlers and their dogs . I was regularly taking part in training exercises and being a “dogs body”. I eventually got a pup in 2002 and began her training at ten months . After training for some time Holly made great progress, she loved searching and her ranging ability is second to none although her indication initally was’nt spot on but with a lot of determination this was solved . The guidance and advice from the other Sarda members helped greatly with this matter.

Through Sarda I have made great friends ,have seen some amazing places and learned more about mountaineering and dog training than can be found in any book. It is a great privilege to be part of an organisation that does such good work . As time and training exercises progressed I was very happy with Holly’s search work . Holly (January 2005) passed both the stock and obedience tests with flying colours which was another step on the road to becoming a search dog. The next step Holly and Trevor took was a major one their assessment which was held in Oughterard Co Galwat over a three day period in March of 2006. After three though days in difficult weather conditions they qualified as a search dog team with a magnificent performance which impressed assessors from both associations.

Since then Trevor and Holly have assissted in various searches around the country and continue to train as hard as ever in order to maintain the highest of standards,On a personal note 2006 has been a very exciting year for the Hornibrooks with the birth of their daughter. Congrats toyou both from all your colleagues and friends in Sarda.

Dave Geoghegan

Dave Geoghegan originally came to Sarda through obedience training. After making contact with Sarda in 2005, he spent some time working with his German shepherd, Rocky. Dave says the dog never came near making the grade, but he learnt a lot trying to train him!

It was a different story with his next dog, Sheba, whom he got for free through an ad in the local paper. Sheba is suspected to be a lab/collie cross and was a promising puppy from early on. Dave started training Sheba when she was 4 months old, and she proceeded quickly to advanced level.

After one failed assessment, Dave and Sheba successfully qualified as a novice search dog team in May 2009. Less than a year later, they achieved the full search dog grade, and are currently the only team in Ireland holding this qualification. Meanwhile, they have responded to a number of call-outs. Dave is also a member of the Galway Mountain Rescue team.

Dave thinks little and often is the best approach to training a search and rescue dog, as well as lots of play when they’re young!