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Rescue in the mountains

Avalanche Dog-Special: Labrador Ivy at Work on the Avalanche

Some stories touch you in a special way. For us, these are the stories where dogs and humans work closely with total trust together, and in this way, can incredibly enrich or even save lives. We have already presented the beautiful Alaska and Lou, who work as therapy dogs. Our Mantrailing special it is about detection dogs for people and in our mountain rescue dog special we reported about Merlin, who works as an avalanche dog. This time it's about Ivy the Labrador who is an avalanche dog and her owner Egon Kaufmann, who works as a volunteer Avalanche and Search Dog Handler for the Tyrolean Mountain Rescue. He tells us about Ivy's career and an operation that took place in the Tyrolean Kalkkögeln on December 17, 2019, in which Ivy saved a human life in an unforgettable way.

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The Labrador Retriever

The Labrador is a very popular family dog. They are distinguished by a hearty nature, always friendly, open-minded and have a curios demeanour. They enjoy any attention, are eager to please loved ones and be part of the family. They are very quick to learn and love to be kept busy. However, they are usually patient dogs and can be a balanced partner. Even towards strangers they are usually open and not very fearful. A typical retriever may develop a special preference for various toys and like to transport them from A to B. In addition, many Labradors are very enthusiastic swimmers who like to take advantage at every opportunity to take a dip even if it is mostly mud. 

„I am 49 years old and have been working voluntarily with my dogs at the Tyrolean Mountain Rescue as an Avalanche and Search Dog Handler since 2007. In 2016 I became aware of Naturavetal for the first time and have been loyal to it ever since. This report is about our greatest success that Ivy and I had in 2019.“
Egon Kaufmann, Volunteer as an avalanche and search dog handler with the Tyrolean Mountain Rescue Service

Labrador Ivy – training as an avalanche dog

Ivy, a black female Labrador, came to me at 8 weeks old. She spent her first two years of life growing up with Nico, a black longhaired shepherd, Nico was also an avalanche dog.

Even at this young age Ivy’s training as an avalanche and search dog in the Tyrolean Mountain Rescue had begun. Countless hours of practice had to be done in the first weeks, months and years. In April 2019, Ivy was then able to achieve the rescue mission qualification.

Ivy the Labrador – an avalanche dog in action

At 9:45 sharp on the 17th December 2019, there was a call at my school, the alert came by pager. "Avalanche at Axamer Lizum". I reported in by radio to the Tyrol control centre as ready for action, because as usual, Ivy was at my side with my backpack and rescue equipment were already packed. Due to a delay, I could only be picked up by the helicopter at 10:12. The flight to the accident site took another 20 minutes. I was told in the helicopter that there was definitely a person without an avalanche transceiver lying under the masses of snow. In addition, no other search teams were allowed on the avalanche peak, due to the danger of after avalanches being very high.

So, it was clear that only Ivy could help to locate the buried victim as quickly as possible. After this time, survival was almost out of the question.

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The avalanche transceiver 

The avalanche transceiver is used to search for avalanche victims. It is an electronic device that should be worn close to the body, as it sends radio signals at regular intervals to speed up and facilitate the search for buried victims after an avalanche. The device has a transmit and a search mode, whereby only one operating mode is possible at a time. The basic rule is that you should never move off the slope alone, but as a group, with the individual group members having set their avalanche transceivers to transmit mode, keeping their distance from each other so that not everyone is buried in the event of an avalanche. If an avalanche occurs and individuals have been buried, the other group members can set their avalanche transceiver to receive, and in this way, they can start searching for the buried victims. Time plays an enormous role in the search, the risk of injury from the avalanche is high, the pressure of the snow mass weighing on the buried persons can be enormous and in addition the body cools quickly. After only 15 minutes, the chances of survival decrease enormously.  

Ivy the Labrador – The rescue

When we arrived at Axams, we first had to land in the carpark. Ivy and I had to be flown onto the avalanche by rope, because the terrain was very steep. When the airrescuer set us down on the avalanche, I sent Ivy to search, it took less than two minutes for Ivy to start digging in the snow. I could hardly believe it when I sensed the body of a human at the site, on the third probe. Together with my dog handlerfriend Manfred Prantl, we immediately started digging up the avalanche victim. First,we came across the climber's backpack. Then we recognised the hair and immediately knew where to find the head and mouth for first aid. Manni and I felt shivers down our spines when the victim signalled to us to uncover his mouth. With all our strength, it was then possible to expose the entire body of the victim. 

Since the avalanche site was so exposed, a "crash recovery" was carried out. The avalanche victim was flown to the clinic and, after a night in hospital, was discharged the very next day.

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Immediate rescue ("crash rescue")

A "crash rescue = immediate rescue". This is carried out when the environmental conditions or the patient's condition are so bad that regular first aid would be too dangerous and would endanger the patient or rescuers life. The patient is thus quickly evacuated from the life-threatening situation, for example because of further avalanche threat, or if the buried person's health is very poor. 

While a gentle rescue requires a comprehensive diagnosis with the appropriate first aid measures on site, this is superseded in the case of an immediate rescue, since the life of the victim is immediately threatened. An emergency doctor on site initiates the immediate rescue, the priority and main objective is to free the affected person from the life-threatening situation. In doing so, possible further harm to the victim is accepted, in order to ensure that the victim has a chance of survival at all.

„How my little lady Ivy mastered her first mission with flying colours made me enormously proud. She approached the matter in a highly concentrated and motivated manner. We had trained for these situations for months, but it is different when it's no longer a training situation and people's lives are actually in danger. I couldn't be happier with her performance. “
Egon Kaufmann and his avalanche dog Ivy - summary of the rescue operation

A warm appreciation

We would like to take this opportunity to thank Egon Kaufmann and of course all the other volunteers across Europe who unselfishly risk their lives as helpers and volunteers.

Should you have any questions, please feel free to contact us by phone. We are here to help you with comprehensive advice. You can reach us Monday to Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. by phone at 020 8531 7804 or mail info@naturavetal.co.uk.

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