#gunnerdogs: john and recco | gunner x c-rad
09-14-222 mins read
Recco was a legendary search and rescue dog who was an expert at finding avalanche victims. She was a member of Colorado Rapid Avalanche Deployment, or C-RAD, along with her handler, John Reller.
Dog Stories

Words by John Reller | As Told by GUNNER

Learn more about Avalanche Rescue teams like C-RAD here.

The key task or number one priority for our team is finding somebody in an avalanche. Sometimes we’re en route and get called to stand down, which is always a great thing because it means companions found the person they were looking for. If not, we are looking to expedite the rescue of an avalanche victim in order to help provide the closure that the find can bring to the family.

Recco, my last certified dog who passed away about a year and a half ago, had several avalanche finds to help bring that closure.

The first time she went out she was just over a year old, and we had just validated her a week before we got called to do a recovery. There were a lot of distractions on the site– a buried snowmobile, fires, spray paint, food and drink bottles all over, a lot of stuff. I thought, “This is crazy. How are we going to work with all of this?” It turned out the distraction was only a distraction for me, not Recco. She went right to work. Within about two minutes, she just started digging – it turned out she was spot on, and he was a little over thirteen feet down. That was her first milestone moment.

Any first find is a big milestone for both the handler and the dog. I think other big moments for me have been where I stayed out of the way and let my dog work. The dogs typically didn’t go where the humans thought they should, but they’d make the find. As humans, we always think we’re pretty smart and we know where the person is going to be. But if we really knew that, we wouldn’t need the dogs. So those experiences have been milestones for me – the recognition that what you’re doing is right, the dog knows what they’re doing, and that you know how to work as a team.

Another find Recco had was a drowning. It was the middle of the night and one of the darkest nights I’ve seen. There was no moon and it was just pitch black out on the lake, so we had no reference points. But once we were out on the boat, working her back and forth, we could tell that she had the scent. I think I drove the boat driver nuts by telling him at least a dozen times to turn around and give us one more pass in the area. But I wasn’t seeing the body language from Recco that I needed to. I knew she had it in this area, and I wanted to try to pinpoint it a little closer. Finally, she did the head snap and tried to walk down the boat to stay in that spot. So I threw the marker in, thinking it would be close enough for the team to come put the sonar in and see if they could find him in the general area. And when they came back out, they said they found him 31 feet deep in the water, exactly where the marker was.

Right now, this is the first time in 30 years that I haven’t had a certified dog. My wife and I have a retired dog at home, and she still goes out on a few small trips that are appropriate for her physical ability level. If you’ve done the right training, they don’t ever lose the desire to work.

To learn more about C-RAD and the organization’s work, check out this blog post and visit www.c-rad.org.

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