On The Hill: Kevin Kerr and Rudy
For most Summit County pet owners, their dogs are considered to be part of the family. In Kevin Kerr’s case, his mixed lab Rudy is not only his family member, but his co-worker, his training partner and a skilled rescuer.Rudy is an avalanche dog and Kerr, a Breckenridge ski patroller, is his handler. Their foremost assignment requires them to be at the resort in case of an inbounds avalanche, although they’re both trained at a high enough level to assist in the backcountry as well, Kerr said.While three other avalanche dogs are in various stages of training at Breckenridge, Kerr and Rudy are the only rapid flight deployment certified team at the resort, meaning they are qualified to be flown into the backcountry to search for avalanche victims.Rudy gained his certification on Dec. 19, after a year of training with Kerr and practice in uncovering mock victims.
Two days later, his skills were tested.A slide buried a snowshoer hiking above tree line near Mount Torreys in Clear Creek County, and the county called in Kerr, Rudy and avalanche technician Rick Sandstrom from Breckenridge to assist.A Flight For Life helicopter picked up the team, and the pilot powered through strong wind gusts to drop them off at the Bakerville trailhead, which was as close to the slide site as he could safely fly.”The conditions were horrendous,” Kerr said. “The winds were I think 50 miles per hour. Rudy’s trying to run in and he hates the wind.”About an hour later, after a series of snowmobile rides and ski traverses, they arrived where the body was believed to be buried. Rudy hopped off the snowmobile, and almost immediately located the area where the 18-year-old man had become trapped about six feet below.
“I truly think it was less than a minute, it was quick,” Kerr recalled.Unfortunately, Rudy’s hasty efforts were too late for the victim, who did not survive the avalanche.While there are few documented cases in the country of avalanche dogs finding live victims, they are an essential part of the rescue team, Kerr said. A dog’s fast work provides closure to family members waiting to hear about a loved one, and often eliminates the need for volunteers to log hundreds of hours probing until all victims of an avalanche are found.”(Rescue dogs) are potentially the greatest asset in an avalanche situation,” he said.Rudy’s rescue background goes back several years.
Kerr and his wife Jaye adopted him from the Dumb Friend’s League in Denver five years ago.Jaye, who was part of the Summit Rescue Group, first trained him as a wilderness scent dog to find lost folks during the summer.He then moved into avalanche training for search and rescue, and found his first victim in 2004 when a slide buried a snowshoer in Chaffee County.Last winter, Kerr had completed adequate training to become a handler and reached enough seniority at Breckenridge to work with an avalanche dog, so the two began training together.Kerr and Rudy are always prepared to venture outside the ski resort to search for avalanche victims, and hopefully one day locate someone who is still alive, but Kerr would rather education and proper gear took their place.”Folks need to have appropriate equipment to travel in the backcountry so my dog doesn’t have to come find them,” Kerr said.
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