It is late fall in park city, Utah, and Ivory is pacing. Today, as part of her early-season dryland drills, she might participate in anything from a mock wilderness search to a river rescue to a joint training exercise with police dogs hunting for a cadaver in a collapsed building. Whatever Ivory is asked to do, shell do it quickly.
The eight-year-old, 65-pound golden retriever is the most highly trained canine at Park City Mountain Resort and a member of Wasatch Backcountry Rescue, which is one of some 1,200 certified teams worldwide. Shes the recent winner of the prestigious Purina Dog Challenge, in which dogs face off two at a time to locate and dig out victims buried 20 yards away under six feet of snow. She found her guy in less than 90 seconds, says Marjorie Jaques, a Park City patroller and Ivorys handler. It can sometimes take up to five minutes.
As the Wasatchs elder statesdog, Ivory is in high demand: When shes not training, shes on call six days a week, sometimes working avalanche duty for 12 hours a day. As a blond, she needs to wear a blinking collar to stay visible in the snowand cowbells when shes actually searching.
Her reward for all her lifesaving efforts? Nothing more than playing with a blue-and-white squeaky tug toy. Maybe you should hang one off your pack when you head OB.