Mountain Rescue Magazine Winter 2021

from the Archive

Hamish MacInnes takes the initiative and SARDA is born


Greenock Advertiser. The puppy had been bought as a pet for the owner’s children, but they soon learned they’d made a mistake. The children lost interest, there was nowhere for the dog to run, it was given little exercise and received no obedience training. The ad attracted no interest so the owners decided to have the dog put down. However, the vet convinced them that, as the dog was so good looking and physically very strong, he should be given a reprieve. A second ad was placed. Again, fortune played a part. His sister, who lived in Greenock, noticed the ad and contacted Hamish with the news. Catherine, who was working as a locum GP in nearby Dunoon, popped by to see the dog on her way back home to Glencoe and she was impressed. Its coat was black and silver and it seemed in good physical condition, but it was quite apathetic, having had no exercise for weeks. Catherine was concerned the dog’s living conditions might have had a serious psychological effect: would it ever learn to be a useful search dog? Nevertheless, she agreed to take it and, following a fraught journey during which the dog was constantly sick, she reached Glencoe and home. Almost immediately, Hamish began to train his new dog, which they called Rangi. Obedience training was high on the list of priorities and he found it helped to work Tiki and his new dog together. The change in Rangi’s environment from the cramped flat in Greenock to the fresh open space of Glencoe had an immediate and significant effect. His strength and fitness grew daily and he soon outpaced Tiki. Teaching him to sit, lie down, retrieve and stay took many weeks of training, but he had a physical quality that endeared him to Hamish. Steep, rough terrain and long days on the hill in bad weather had little effect on his energy or enthusiasm. In the summer of 1961, Hamish left Scotland to climb in the Caucasus Mountains as a member of a Scottish- Russian climbing expedition. One of his climbing colleagues, George Ritchie, agreed with Hamish that there was merit in establishing some kind of search and rescue dog team. Hamish had mixed feelings, as an initial attempt by him to use dogs for searching proved unsuccessful. On this occasion he had acquired a pair of Tibetan Mastiffs to help him track down the famed Yeti on his Abominable Snowman

climbing ropes) were called out to assist people in distress, sometimes at risk to their own lives. Early search parties were largely dependent on people with local knowledge, who worked in the hills, their only equipment a stick or crook and a telescope, their only means of communicating with each other a shout, whistle or wave of a handkerchief. Hamish felt sure that if dogs were used, trained along the lines Hans Spielman had demonstrated, they’d be capable of covering search areas in much less time than a man, rescue operations could be executed more quickly and with greater success. Ever the innovator, he began to train his own dog, Tiki. Early in 1960 he’d been given Tiki, a seven-month-old Alsatian, by friends in Glasgow. She was affectionate, obedient and a first-class watchdog but, more importantly, she was intelligent with a natural willingness to learn — all the potential to become a first-rate search and rescue dog. However, a few months later, Tiki fell ill with cancer. Hamish and his wife Catherine were devastated. Not only were they about to lose a loved companion, but Hamish’s ambitions to train her as a search and rescue dog might never be realised. The prognosis was bleak, but Hamish convinced Catherine they should get another dog and train it as they had trained Tiki over the past year. Unknown to them, an advertisement to sell a young Alsatian had been placed in the

Hamish MacInnes was born in Gatehouse of Fleet, Dumfries and Galloway in 1930 and moved to Glencoe in 1959. Between 1948 and 1950, during his two-year ‘National Service’, he spent most of his time stationed in the Austrian Tyrol, where he became friends with mountain guide Hans Spielman who owned two dogs that had been used to search for people caught in avalanches. By all accounts, his dogs weren’t specially trained for rescue work and searches were somewhat haphazard affairs, but the seeds of an idea were sown. Back in Scotland, Hamish pursued his new-found interest in using dogs to locate people lost in the mountains. He was aware that dogs had been used to help find climbers lost or avalanched in the Highlands but they had been mainly shepherds’ dogs. The years following his return marked significant change in society. A new sense of mobility and freedom saw many taking advantage of the outdoors for leisure. The Cairngorms and Glencoe opened up for skiing and the long winter season meant people could ski and climb from the end of November through to mid-May. Inevitably, there was an increase in accidents. Civilian mountain rescue had yet to be fully established but calls for help (around 50 each year in 1960) never went unanswered. Police officers and locals (with little or no training and often ill-equipped with no searchlights, ice axes or crampons, or even



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