Her name is actually Lady Beatrice of Hemlock Hollow, to be precise, and she isn’t your typical ski patroller. Bee is an avalanche rescue dog, a specially trained pup who uses her keen sense of smell to locate people buried beneath the snow. Bee is also one of the first generation of Telluride avalanche rescue dogs to benefit from a new nonprofit organization created in their honor –Telluride Avalanche Dogs, or TAD.
“We’re doing this in an effort to support these dogs, who have been here for years and years, and who aren’t really supported by any particular entity other than the dedication of their owners,” explains Kim Richard, Bee’s owner and handler. Richard and her husband, Gary, both longtime dog handlers and Telluride Ski Patrollers, founded TAD this winter, in an effort to provide financial and foundational support for Telluride’s hardworking rescue dogs.
Bee is one of five rescue dogs that call the Telluride Ski Resort’s slopes home; dogs who play a unique and vital role in mountain rescue and safety education efforts in the Telluride community.
On any given day Bee, or one of her canine coworkers, Bajuko, Doris, Wiley or rookie rescuer Mona, can be called upon to assist in locating a person buried by an avalanche. Luckily, in-bounds avalanches involving the public are extremely rare in Telluride, but off-piste avalanches are an unfortunate
(and unfortunately familiar) consequence of the San Juan Mountains’ notoriously unstable snowpack. Oftentimes,
ski patrollers’ rescue dogs are among the first line of volunteers dispatched to organized avalanche rescue efforts in the region’s backcountry.
These dogs are trained to perform under pressure in rescue situations, providing a fast and effective means of locating buried avalanche victims – often faster and more effectively than their human counterparts. Even when outfitted with the industry’s most advanced technological rescue tools (like avalanche transceivers), mere humans, when searching for a buried avalanche victim, are usually no match for a dog, who uses nothing more than her highly evolved sense
of smell to locate the exact site of a burial.
But a rescue dog’s overall role transcends her job as a rescuer on the scene of an avalanche. Telluride’s avalanche dogs have historically played a significant part in educating the community, and especially the region’s schoolchildren, about
In his short film Lady B’s First Winter: A Puppy’s Journey to Rescue Dog, local filmmaker Scott Ransom shows a scene in which Bee is the honored guest at the Telluride Schools’ annual Ski P.E. Awareness talk. The camera pans from Bee and speaker
Gary Richard to the horde of gathered elementary-school students, whose eyes are all trained on their special four-legged guest.
“They bridge quite a gap in the community,” Gary Richard says of the dogs’ role in mountain safety education. Richard has been involved in the Ski P.E. and mountain safety education initiatives for more than 25 years, when he brought his first rescue puppy, Jane, to the Telluride Schools in the mid-1980s.
“By bringing these avi dogs to school to talk about mountain safety or avalanches, we’ve got these kids’ attention. She’s helping us get the message out of, ‘Hey, let’s be safe,’” Richard says.
Traditionally, the Richard’s and TSP’s other dog handlers have participated in off-mountain avalanche rescues and educational programs strictly as volunteers. Now TAD will help provide the funding for such training and education to continue, while also providing the framework for supporters to give back to these hardworking canines.
“This will provide a more formalized institution that the community can count on,” Gary Richard says, “while providing the structure so that these dogs can count on the community” for financial support that will go toward training, equipment, medical and insurance costs, ongoing education, scholarships, and more. As a nonprofit organization, TAD can now organize fundraisers and accept donations to support Telluride avalanche dogs’ many efforts, both on and off the hill.
“The rescue dogs come and go, but the program remains an important part of the community. TAD will allow us to provide that uniformity and consistency, so that our rescue dog program can stay viable through the years,” Kim Richard explains. “It gives us this knowledge that people are out there who want to help in this effort, but it also gives people a great sense of satisfaction, knowing that now they can help the dogs too. I mean, who doesn’t love a dog?”
For more information about TAD, or to contribute, call 970/728-7586, or stop by a Telluride Ski Patrol stations on the mountain, to buy a TAD T-shirt; donate $25 or more for a Lady B DVD.