'Dogsbody' Alan becomes patron of canine search charity
By Martin Paul - Senior Reporter
CELEBRATED mountaineer and dalesman Alan Hinkes this month became patron of Mountain Rescue Search Dogs England (MRSDE), becoming only the second person to hold the title.
The honour comes as the charity, which trains dogs to find missing people, celebrates its 50th anniversary.
Mr Hinkes, who was the first and only Briton to have scaled the 14 highest peaks in the world, has a long association with search and mountain rescue teams and remains an ambassador for Mountain Rescue England and Wales.
Last month he raised hundreds of pounds to support Swaledale Search and Mountain Rescue Team’s fund to buy a new operations vehicle.
Of his appointment the mountaineer said: “I am really flattered and honoured. It has only had one patron before me and that is a chap called Hamish MacInnes. He was a legend. He founded SARDA (Search and Rescue Dog Association, which later became MRSDE) and he was a mountain rescue guru. He founded it in the 1970s when he saw how they worked in Europe getting bodies out of avalanches and so on and so forth.”
Mr Hinkes had been an ambassador for the charity prior to his appointment as patron and he has, for many years, been involved with the training of search dogs.
He said: “I go out on an evening, quite often working as a dogsbody, letting the dogs search for me. That is for the Teesdale dogs and also the Swaledale dogs. There is also a Cleveland team which overlaps with them as well. All these dogs train together with the handlers.”
Mr Hinkes added that training is currently restricted to one handler, one dog and one dogsbody volunteer because of Covid-19.
He said: “Normally we would try and get as many dogsbodies as we can and there might be half a dozen and the dog goes and finds all six of us.”
Mr Hinkes also promotes the charity by taking photographs of training in progress to accompany articles that he writes for various magazines.
He said: “I am genuinely happy to be involve with MRSDE because I can see how much valuable work they do.
“We don’t have avalanches in our area, but there are other reasons – someone could have a broken leg and they can’t move and they are stuck on the fells. A dog could get straight to them, possibly quicker than a rescue team. And the dogs can go out in inclement weather, you couldn’t get a helicopter out in inclement weather to look for someone who is stuck, so they are totally invaluable.
“The dog handlers are so dedicated – they might have to get up in the middle of the night and go and search for people – and it’s not just people that are lost in mountains, most of the work is people who have wandered off, they might have mental health issues.
“They don’t always work with the mountain rescue teams, they work with the emergency services, with the police or ambulance services.”
Mr Hinkes added that most of the cost of training the dogs is covered by the handlers themselves and he urged people to support the charity through cash donations.
People can help by visiting mountainrescuesearchdogsengland.org.uk.