Here is yet another example of dogs that can rescue us, this time from the disaster of collapsing and moving mountain snow-- the avalanche. How do dogs learn to find and save lives in record times after such an event? iNK author, Elizabeth Rusch, describes the process in Avalanche Dog Heroes: Piper and Friends Learn to Search the Snow. It's no walk in the park and not every dog has what it takes. As Rusch describes them:
"Avalanche rescue dogs must be smart, agile, athletic, and eager to please. They need thick pads on their paws and dense hair to protect them from the cold. It also helps if they are small and light enough to be carried."
Dogs already live in a world of smell-- they have a finely tuned sense that can detect the source of a smell. After weeks of bonding with a handler, becoming acclimatized to ski lifts, skiers and all kinds of weather, they learn to respond to more than 80 cues that are printed on the front end paper of this book.
Elizabeth Rusch introduces us to Piper, a three-year-old border collie, who enters the training program or "school" with Sara, her handler, who will prepare Piper for a for a final examination. It shows readers that a high bar that must be set for avalanche rescue dogs if it will be able do its job when it counts. By the time we get to Piper's certification test, the reader is totally hooked. Piper will have to find two people and two of three scented sweaters buried in a snow field in about 15 minutes. Will she succeed? Game on!
I'm always looking for the added value a book has for students. In this case, Rusch has provided many suggestions for group discussions and independent activities at the back of the book.
I also loved this book because I'm a skier. The brilliant photography in the book by Dylan Cembalski brought back so many memories. Avalanches are a real and present danger. (I've never been involved in one, although I've been at ski resorts when they've happened. ) Avalanche Dog Heroes is a different take on the pleasures and dangers of this exhilarating sport. Thank you, Elizabeth Rusch, for this excellent story about four-legged ski patrollers who can unbury lives.