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Derbyshire's search and rescue dogs are Peak performers
Nick Smith, Zak and "body" Freda
A rubber toy's all the reward a Search and Rescue dog requires when he finds his missing person

They star in their own weekly dramas, but you won't find them in the Radio Times.

You will, though, find them out in the Peak District come rain or shine, doing their best to bring the lost, the ill or the injured back to safety.

They are, of course, the Mountain Rescue Teams, seven of whom serve a swathe of territory from Black Hill down to Ashbourne.

The teams' dogs and handlers are ever on the alert for that call to action.

It was back in 1964 that a group of people gathered in Buxton Police Station to hammer out a co-ordinated system of search and recovery: Peak District Mountain Rescue Organisation was born.

There had been a "Stretcher Committee" as far back as the '30's, and a National Park Warden's Service set up in '54 had tried to help in rescues.

The Mountain Rescue Teams of today, though, are in a different league. Each one has its own equipment, supplies, transport and communications, though not everyone in the team is a dog handler.

It takes two years for a likely dog to make the grade, and be officially classified as an Operational Search Dog.

Nick Smith from the Buxton team, and his Blue Merle Collie, Zak, were recently awarded the Novice Team Shield for not only reaching the required standard, but for passing their assessment in sub-zero temperatures, regardless of rain, snow and gale.

It's a prestigious award - one which hadn't been given out since 2001. Mind you, Nick's quick to tell any would-be congratulators that the credit belongs to his dog. In fact the consensus seems to be that the dogs learn faster than their two-legged partners: the noses have it.

Border Collies are a popular choice : working dogs, like the Springer Spaniels and Labradors you'll also see among the ranks.

Dr Jeff Cuttell and Xinxin

For them search and rescue's an elaborate game. In the twice-weekly training exercises volunteer "bodies" hide in the hills. The dog soon discovers that finding the mark means great games with a well-chewed squeaky toy - the only executive incentive required.

John and Freda were being "bodies" the day that Dr Jeff Cuttell, former Dean of Derby took his own German Shepherd out with some of the Buxton team on Baslow Edge.

Asked what it was like to lie and wait in the wet for a delighted dog to leap on you, John insisted it was all a question of having the right kit. "Trust me, it's so warm that some days you actually wake up when the dog comes - and it's only then you realise you've been asleep".

It sounds fun. And it is. But real call-outs can have the rescuers working twelve hour stretches in extreme conditions with their navigational and medical skills tested to their limits.

They average a call-out a week, along with the twice-weekly training and a national training session once a month.

Look at the SARDA website and it'll warn that you'll need "commitment, motivation and a sense of humour" to join its ranks.

Go out with one of the teams and you'll see all three amply deployed.

It's drama with no cameras rolling.

It's real altruism in action:

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