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Unique Mountain Culture Award goes to novice search and rescue dog teams

Two Search & Rescue Dog Association Scotland dog teams from Braemar are the recipients of the Fort William Mountain Festival’s special Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture that celebrates the Festival’s 20th Anniversary.

The Fort William Mountain Festival is proud to announce the recognition of two special novice search and rescue dog teams from Search & Rescue Dog Association (SARDA) Scotland with the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture – Special 20th Anniversary Award, sponsored by Burns Pet Nutrition. This unique one-off award in celebration of the 20th Fort William Mountain Festival programme acknowledges the outstanding contributions of search and rescue dog teams to mountain culture throughout Scotland.

In a remarkable achievement, Rogue, a Belgian Malinois bitch, and Bowie, a Border Collie, along with their husband-and-wife Handlers, Paul and Sam Noble, from Braemar in Aberdeenshire, have earned this esteemed award after both teams passed an extremely challenging external assessment in just one year of intensive training. Typically, it takes two years to fully train search dogs and their handlers before their first official rescue call out.

In March 2023, the duo of Sam and Bowie clinched the Madras Trophy, an accolade bestowed upon the best Novice Search Dog Team deemed outstanding.  In April 2023, shortly after passing their external assessment Paul and Rogue undertook their first call-out, making history as only the second SARDA Scotland dog team to find a missing hillwalker on their first official search call-out. This was even more impressive as Rogue had to retrain using a muzzle, something that normally takes a year, and Paul underwent brain surgery a few months before the final assessment.

SARDA Scotland, a Scottish charity dedicated to training dogs and their volunteer handlers to search for missing persons, supporting Mountain Rescue Teams and the Police in their search and rescue efforts, commended the Novice Search Dog Teams for their remarkable achievements.

Stu McIntyre, Training Officer, SARDA Scotland, said: “SARDA Scotland is delighted to congratulate Sam and Paul Noble and their dogs Bowie and Rogue on receiving the prestigious Fort William Mountain Festival 20th Anniversary Award. This is fantastic recognition for their outstanding contributions to Mountain Culture.

“As an organisation with deep roots in the Lochaber area and having two presidents who have received Scottish Awards for Excellence in Mountain Culture, most recently with our current president Dave “Heavy” Whalley in 2023, this award for Paul and Sam seems even more fitting.

“On behalf of the entire SARDA Scotland team, we extend our heartfelt congratulations to Sam and Paul. Their unwavering dedication and service to SARDA, Mountain Rescue and the Scottish Avalanche Information Service is an inspiration to us all. We are proud to have them as part of our SARDA family, and we look forward to their continued contributions for many years to come.”

Sam and Paul Noble, who joined SARDA as novice dog handlers after the Covid pandemic lockdowns, surpassed all expectations. Both seasoned mountaineers and members of Braemar Mountain Rescue Team, as well as Scottish Avalanche Information Service (SAIS) observers, they bring a wealth of experience to SARDA. Paul, having summited Everest twice, demonstrates their commitment to mountain culture.

Sam and Paul Noble said: “We are honoured to be awarded the special 20th Anniversary Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture by the Fort William Mountain Festival.

“Mountains are our life and we’ve been fortunate to complete many routes and summits that have been difficult. Becoming a search dog team has been, in some ways, a similar challenge. Ultimately it requires absolute commitment, with major highs and lows during the journey. Getting back up again when you’ve been knocked down is perhaps the hardest part.

“SARDA Scotland is a tight group, very much a family and we are proud to be part of it and call ourselves Search Dogs and Handlers. We thank our committee, trainers, and colleagues for nominating us for this award and recognise that we follow in the shadow of previous recipients, Hamish Machines, our founder and David Whalley, our president.

“And of course, most important of all, without our Bowie and Rogue’s trust and love, our lives would feel a lot emptier.”

The Fort William Mountain Festival initiated the Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture in 2008, and in 2015, introduced the Youth category. The 27 exceptional human recipients and two talented canine recipients, including the two SARDA Scotland rescue teams, will be celebrated at a special Festival event at the Nevis Centre, Fort William, on Thursday, February 15, 2024 – (https://mountainfestival.co.uk/ticket/events/launch-night/), as part of the festival’s 20th Anniversary programme.

Anna Danby, the Fort William Mountain Festival Coordinator, said: “The Fort William Mountain Festival are very proud to honour SARDA, their dog handlers and, of course, our K9 friends for all the outstanding work they do throughout the year. We wished to recognise the contribution that SARDA make to Mountain Rescue with this special one-off award as part of the celebrations for the 20th anniversary Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture. Both Sam and Bowie and Paul and are wholly deserving recipients of this award, and their unique story was a huge factor in them winning. We thank both SARDA for all their help in choosing these amazing recipients and Burns Pet Nutrition for their sponsorship.”

Rebecca Wilkinson, Sponsorship Officer, Burns Pet Nutrition, said: “We are so proud to be a part of the Fort William Mountain Festival on its 20th Anniversary and celebrating with a special award to two SARDA Dog and Handler Teams. As a company that is a supporter and sponsor of SARDA Scotland, we always strive to make a difference to the lives of pets and humans whenever possible, which is why choosing to support the festival was such an easy choice. This event is a great way to recognise the contribution to the community and the incredible work of the search and rescue handlers and their dogs.’

Ends

Images:

Hi-res images of Sam and Bowie and Paul and Rogue can be downloaded from Dropbox –  https://www.dropbox.com/scl/fo/8ldmbekae2n02t9mx12oa/h?rlkey=ebzc7g1zfotnk4kvu0on558ox&dl=0  Please credit Dave MacLeod for all images.

Notes to Editors:

Paul and Rogue – search and rescue dog team’s triumph over adversity story

An inspiring story of perseverance and dedication involving the SARDA Scotland team of Paul and Rogue.

For context, SARDA’s search dog and handler training programme spans from May to February annually, with rigorous evaluations and assessments leading up to external assessments in March. Volunteers known as Bodies, integral to the training process, play a crucial role as live targets during training sessions, also offering insights into dog behaviour and aiding SARDA’s Training Teams.

Bowie and Rogue joined SARDA as pups in May 2022, progressing rapidly through the training programme. As the SARDA Training Team considered candidates for assessment in March 2023, disaster struck when Rogue bit one of the volunteer Bodies during a training session. This incident posed a significant challenge for Paul and Rogue, as SARDA emphasized its duty of care to its volunteers.

To address the situation, SARDA required Rogue to be muzzled and learn the advanced technique of shuttling, whereby the dog returns to the handler for a reward after approaching a target. Despite the setback, Paul and Rogue dedicated themselves to mastering this skill within a tight two-month timeframe, demonstrating remarkable progress. The invitation to attend the Annual Assessments in March was extended, marking a testament to their resilience.

However, in February 2023, Paul faced personal health issues, including headaches and leg problems, stemming from a previous fall. A diagnosis revealed a brain bleed, leading to immediate surgery and the revocation of Paul’s driving license due to the risk of seizures. Paul’s wife, Sam, steps up to shoulder the responsibilities of driving while managing her own business, and continuing the training of Bowie.

The story encapsulates the essence of overcoming adversity, showcasing the indomitable spirit of mountaineers like Sam and Paul, drawing on their decades of experience in the mountains to navigate challenges.

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2024

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2024 runs from Thursday 15 to Sunday 18 February 2024. Most events take place at The Nevis Centre, An Aird, Fort William PH33 6AN, as well as some satellite venues in and around the bustling Highland town of Fort William, at the heart of the ‘Outdoor Capital of the UK’.

Satellite venues include The Highland Cinema and Three Wise Monkeys indoor climbing centre. 

The Fort William Mountain Festival 2024 – Useful links:

Scottish Mountain Culture Awards – https://mountainfestival.co.uk/culture-awards/

Website for up-to-date festival programme information and tickets – https://mountainfestival.co.uk

Instagram – @mountainfestival – https://www.instagram.com/mountainfestival/

Facebook – @mountainfestival – https://www.facebook.com/fort.william.mountain.festival/

YouTube – @fortwilliammountainfestival704 – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCz3PaWPZFUyFli_gChEO–Q

The prestigious Scottish Awards for Excellence in Mountain Culture recognise the achievements and accomplishments of inspiring individuals and their outstanding contributions to Scotland’s outdoor culture, encompassing sport, theatre, art, photography, film and literature.

The award was set up in 2008 by the Highland Mountain Culture Association Ltd, organisers of the Fort William Mountain Festival.  The 2024 Award is sponsored by JAHAMA Highland Estates. The Youth Award, established in 2015, is sponsored by UHI North, West and Hebrides (School of Adventure Studies).

Previous Recipients of The Scottish Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2024 – Lee Craigie

2023 – David ‘Heavy’ Whalley MBE BEM

2022 – Karen Darke

2021 – Dave Morris

2020 – Colin Prior

2019 – Noel Williams

2018 – Cameron McNeish

2017 – Dr Hamish Brown MBE

2016 – Mick Tighe

2015 – Robin Campbell

2014 – Andy Nisbet

2013 – Myrtle Simpson DL

2012 – Dr Adam Watson

2011 – Ian ‘Spike’ Sykes MBE

2010 – Jimmy Marshall

2009 – Richard Else

2008 – Dr Hamish MacInnes OBE BEM

Previous Recipients of The Scottish Youth Award for Excellence in Mountain Culture are:

2024 – Caitlin Connor

2023 – Stephanie McKenna

2022 – Kirsty Muir

2021 – Mikayla Parton

2020 – Tim Miller

2019 – Rob Cochrane

2018 – Shauna Coxsey

2017 – Robert Mackenzie

2016 – Natalie Berry

2015 – Zeki Basan

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