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Beloved search and rescue dog ‘Pickle’ goes into retirement

Search and rescue dog had been to over 50 rescues over her career

A beloved and important member of the Campbell River Search and Rescue team (CRSAR) is heading into retirement.

Pickle is retiring from the CRSAR after more than 50 rescues, with some as far as Tweedsmuir Park in northern B.C. As his handler, Sheila Fairbank points out, the chocolate Labrador got his start as a rescue dog with the CRSAR later on in life.

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“He started out his life as a puppy with a different owner,” said Fairbank. “He was trained for avalanche rescue, and demonstrated great talent and a drive right from the very beginning.”

But when that owner underwent a career change, keeping a high-drive dog wasn’t in the best interest for either. So, he was returned to his breeder in Quesnel to be the sire for various litters. By the time he was five, the breeder was looking for a home as he could no longer serve as a stud, and Fairbank was looking for another puppy to fulfill the needs of CRSAR.

“Usually, dogs have to be under the age of two to enter the program,” said Fairbank. “But, because of his early training in avalanche work and his obvious talent and drive, I was given a shot at validating him.”

It was no easy task: the then five-year-old dog was only given six months to pass, with only one chance at doing so. Pulling it off, Pickle was validated. Since 2018, he’s been on some incredible missions all over Vancouver Island and elsewhere.

“We were being flown to Haida Gwaii on one occasion, but were stood down before we got there, as the missing person had been found,” said Fairbank. “In fact, I don’t think he’s ever really not searching for things that smell like humans when we’re out in the wilderness. He’ll always dart out in the bush and come back with a lost item or clothing or a tool someone stashed in the trees.”

But alas, a new and somewhat controversial tracking standard has been added to the validation set forth by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP). It takes hundreds of hours.

Not all of the volunteer SAR dog handlers have the time or resources to train their dog, said Fairbank, so Pickle will be retired from service.

“Training an older dog to track is a big undertaking, and I chose to put the time I had for that into my younger dog, which is poised to fill Pickle’s shoes.”

The announcement was made on social media to retire the lovable Lab. The Jan. 18 post on Facebook announcing Pickle’s retirement has reached nearly 300 reactions, with most being positive.

“I’m kind of blown away at the response about Pickle retiring,” said Fairbank. “I think he’s got quite a few fans out there!”

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