In early November, my beautiful Search Dog Bracken padded peacefully over rainbow bridge after being with me for over 12 years. He was nearly 14 years old. I like to imagine him now running free as he used to with his fellow search dog companions.
Bracken was a big beautiful dark brown tri colour fluffy collie with a happy smiley face and has been called the collie with the teddy bear face which I think suited him well.
He had a lovely soft flowing coat, he was gentle and affectionate -sometimes in a ‘full on bounce on you way’ but also in a very gentle way-just a slight nudge, raise of the paw or deep unfaltering gaze straight into my eyes. He loved people and would lean against them for attention. He was steady and trusting, though stubborn and awkward when he didn’t want to do something but most of all fun loving and playful.
In August 2010, Bracken came home with me from a farm, he was just over 18 months old. I was supposed to help find him a home and as I already had two search dogs I felt I was safe enough from acquiring another. However, Bracken had other ideas and as soon as I met this him I felt we bonded and I couldn’t tolerate the thought of anyone else having him.
Following a walk, he jumped into the boot of the car after the other two like he knew that was where he was meant to be and came home. Away from the farm he was timid and it took time to build confidence in the big outside world with all the new places and noises. He wouldn’t come into the house to start with and peeped round the kitchen door from the porch-his temporary home.
With two other confident collies, he soon came out of his shell. He came out with us and played the search games which he loved, especially when I ran around and then hid so he would race to find me and bark then roll around on the ground playing tug where he liked to have several toys all at once. He quickly became very good at searching for articles giving the other two a challenge and could even find my mobile phone, pager and keys which came in handy several times.
When Meg developed a repetitive strain injury and I was unsure if it would resolve, it was a natural progression to train Bracken as a search dog and he passed his introductory obedience test in May 2012. He loved searching and was so excited when he found, he would bounce about and bark to get his toy reward.
After steady progress and a few glitches, Bracken qualified as a Search Dog in July 2014 following a gruelling final mountain assessment that took us to the tops of the Coniston fells for nearly 5 hours.
Bracken loved being out in all weathers, just being out anywhere though especially in the high fells. He loved water, swimming and just lying in it, any stream or boggy puddle would do. He also enjoyed accompanying me to talks to the WI and schools where he would do search demonstrations and received lots of fuss and has featured in Cumbria Life and Country Living Magazine.
Bracken particularly loved winter, on the hills in the snow, he was in his element and accompanied me skiing and snowshoeing. On our winter training, he was a strong digger using his big paws to dig down for people buried under the snow and then using his weight to barge into the hole in eagerness to get his tug toy.
He has been on boats, on chairlifts and flown in helicopters, all which he took in his stride, so long as he was with me, he trusted me to look after him.
In spring 2016 he suffered a major setback where an injury in training led to the fusion of his left wrist and I thought he wouldn’t work again. He recovered very well and being a big, strong dog, following a vet assessment he began search work again in December the same year.
On his second callout following becoming operational, after 5.5hrs of searching in west Cumbria on a cold Sunday in December, he found an elderly gentleman who had been missing since the Friday lunchtime. The gentleman, who was in a severely hypothermic state, but alive, was airlifted to hospital and to be with his family. It is an amazing feeling when your dog finds, I was so proud of Bracken.
He has had a wonderful, exciting life, working as a search dog with Keswick Mountain Rescue team, accompanying the team and teams across Cumbria, out in all weathers searching for missing people. Bracken retired in December 2020 after being operational for 6.5 years. He taught me patience and working as a team, each dog is different, and you have to really work together to get the understanding and the subtle communication needed to work the fells in all weathers.
I have many wonderful memories of all we did together, the places we have been and the adventures we have had, and even though you know the time is coming, it feels unreal and unimaginable to even consider saying goodbye. Having no physical presence or feeling him close to me, his quizzical and loving looks, the paw, the gentle nudge of his nose and not being able to stroke him is the hardest part.
Having been such a big part of my life for so long, to just be gone is devastating and which only time can heal. He was my constant companion and partner, treading the fells with me, on mountain rescue callouts and searches for missing people.
Our bond was deep, he was my heart and soul. I miss him and he will always be with me.
Rest in peace my beautiful Bear
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