Ipswich Labrador Puzzle is primed to sniff out lifesaving clue
She’s called Puzzle, and it is hoped the lovable Labrador will live up to her name by solving some Suffolk mysteries.
That’s because after more than a year-and-a-half of training, she has just become a fully-accredited search and rescue dog – believed to be one of only four in East Anglia.
She’s achieved the accreditation alongside owner Andrew Shemming, and can now be called upon for the likes of a missing person search.
Mr Shemming, 51, of Ashcroft Road, Ipswich, said: “It originally started when I would help out teams acting as the missing person for the dogs to track, and it progressed from there.
“It’s something I have strived to do, and it’s amazing what they can do. Now we will see what happens when the live searches come in.”
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The pair can be called to anywhere in the region at short notice, when an air scenting dog is required, and with the small number of teams operating in the region, the range of their call outs is broad.
Mr Shemming added: “She may go years without a find or a callout, and some people are not found, but she is ready.”
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Puzzle’s training began at six months old with simple hiding games in which a person goes out of sight and the dog has to find their scent in the air to follow them.
Gradually the distances increased until Puzzle was able to track people over longer distances.
The teams act in pairs with one person following the dog and one acting as a navigator and observing terrain, and inspired by Mr Shemming’s efforts, daughter Annabelle, 17, is now keen to follow in his footsteps and join Puzzle on searches.
Annabelle began by helping with fundraising for the National Search and Rescue Dog Association Anglia (NSARDA), and soon moved into training, where she will be able to go on searches when she is 18.
Mr Shemming said: “She gets a big buzz out of it, and she has a job working with dogs, which is her dream.
“For me it’s quite a nervy thing and the adrenaline kicks in when you are in the middle of weeds and you are following the hound. It’s really rewarding when there is a find.”
Remarkably, Puzzle is not Mr Shemming’s first prize-winning dog, with his Pyrenean Mountain Cross dog Barley having won prizes at Crufts as the first crossbreed.
Now, Mr Shemming and Annabelle are looking to raise awareness of the need for volunteer search and rescue dogs, of any breed, and the need for people to help as “missing people” in the same way he started out.
For more information on how to volunteer, see here