When Logan Bennett talks about Ferra there is a mix of pride and adoration that would make even the most skeptical believe they were meant to be and while chatting with him I couldn’t help but wonder how his wife, Christy, feels about the whole arrangement.
“Every single day of my life is with Ferra. She never leaves my side. Just solely because I want to build that relationship,” explains Bennet. “She flies with me. She goes on vacation with me to my in-laws which I am sure they don’t love.”
Ferra is Bennett’s avalanche rescue dog. They spend every living, breathing moment together. Ferra lives with Bennett; she goes to work with Bennett and Bennett spends a chunk of each day doing training exercises with her because, even once certified, training an avalanche dog is an ongoing process –not to mention a time-consuming and expensive one.
Taking into account the cost of courses, certification, travel to programs, insurance, the particularly high protein diet required to nurture a high drive dog, amongst other costs – it ends up costing approximately $27000 -$30000 to get a dog certified and operating as an avalanche rescue dog. That is the level of cost incurred by handlers like Bennett in what can only be classified as a passion project.
When asked how he covers these costs, Bennett explains with a laugh, “My dog doesn’t get a wage but it makes me more employable. We (dog handlers) don’t get remuneration. It’s purely volunteer.”
Having worked in the ski industry here in the Canadian Rockies as a patroller and snow safety specialist since 1998, Bennett’s commitment is quite simply to adding to the avalanche search and rescue resources available within Banff National Park. While Parks Canada has two full-time dog-and-handler teams available, each of the ski hills in the area also has a handler on staff. The aim of having these highly-skilled search team onsite is simply to reduce response times in an emergency.
Lake Louise Ski Resort has a team, Mount Norquay has two: one full-time and one part-time and Ferra and Bennett works up at Sunshine Village.
In the event of an avalanche, Bennett explained that he works in conjunction with Parks Canada staff in an attempt to respond as efficiently as possible. “Parks is my dispatcher. It’s their call ultimately to decide if any dog will go onsite.”
Bennett spends a portion of each work day training Ferra making sure she is ready for an emergency situation. He explains that it is a difficult balance of teaching the dog to be both obedient and independent. “If you push the dog too hard in obedience, they can become ‘handler-bound’ dogs. They won’t go too far (during a search) because they don’t want to get in trouble,” says Bennett. So the trick is to train a dog to be obedient but also assertive enough to search aggressively during an emergency.
This is achieved through a calculated balance of obedience and search training. Obedience sessions are held daily, often just five minutes in length but using a positive reward system. “Everything is geared to be fun, play time,” says Bennet. “The whole time you do the sessions it’s rewarding so they want to do the session.” It can be as simple as Bennett having Ferra heal beside him, walk a few paces then heal again; each time she heals, she gets rewarded.
Search training is the other major component to Ferra’s training. “We don’t want to search too much – once or twice a week – a two hour session,” says Bennett. These sessions involve Bennett setting up a scenario beforehand, namely burying an object, and then bring the dog to the general area. Ferra thus trains on how to arrive onsite, be it via skidoo or chairlift, then searches until all objects are found.
Between training sessions the dog is kept predominantly in a kennel and this too is a training tool explains Bennett, “The reason we keep a dog in the kennel is to minimize the amount of activity they do, so when we bring them out to do a search you get as much drive as you can from them.”
Ferra is still in training; Bennett hopes to have her certified sometime in 2016. She is the second dog he is putting through the program after he had to retire his first dog for medical issue. “The funny thing is – everything you learnt with your first dog you can throw out with the window. Each dog is so different…” says Bennett in an almost paternal tone.
Much of the support and mentorship Bennett receives while training Ferra to obtain her certification is through the governing body that grants it: the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA). In an attempt to pay it all forward, Bennett also acts as president of the Alberta Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (AARDA) whose aim is to support teams operating locally. You can learn more at the AARDA website.
To book your next ski vacation in Banff and Lake Louise, check out our featured ski and stay vacation packages or call us at 1-844-754-2443.