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Schweitzer trains new avalanche rescue dogs

SANDPOINT, Idaho – It has been a few years since the ski patrol at Schweitzer last had special dogs trained to find skiers and snowboarders buried in avalanches.

Now they have avalanche rescue dogs Annie and Abby.

A stinky sweatshirt buried in the snow is no match for Annie, a 2-year-old yellow Lab. Game time comes when a skier or snowboarder is stuck in a big way. Even in this day of wearable technology and smartphones, the best way to find someone buried in an avalanche is the nose of a dog.

From day one, these dogs are trained to become experts in locating and even helping to un-bury avalanche victims. It can take close to two years for them to become fully certified in all aspects of mountain rescue.

"Learning how to ride a helicopter. Learning how to ride a snowmobile. Ski lift," said Jeff Thompson with Schweitzer Ski Patrol.

Schweitzer's ski patrol has had avalanche dogs on and off in the past. It's been a few years since the last mountain pooches were on the hill.

"Really, what we're trying to do now is develop a program where we always have that resource available,” said Thompson.

Annie has started her first season on the mountain. Right next to her is 11-week-old Abby.

"And they're actually related. They're half-sisters," said Thompson.

Abby's bred to be a rescue dog, too. She still needs a little help here and there. But give her time, and Abby and Annie will make quite the team at Schweitzer. They'll ideally be a resource for all of North Idaho.

"It's one thing to work with avalanche beacons and shovels. But when you get to work with pups like this with personalities, that's the best part of it," said Thompson.

In the meantime, while Abby may be excelling in the cuteness department, she still has a way to go in terms of fully learning the ropes.

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