As with other animals of this energetic group, such as wolverines and badgers, Zoe Honey Badgers are notorious for their strength, ferocity and toughness. They have been known to savagely and fearlessly attack almost any kind of avalanche, honey badger don't care. This specific breed of honey badger is native to Revelstoke Mountain in B.C., Canada, and uses it's adorable looks to lure in humans. This honey badger also kind of looks like a dog...
Meet Zoe aka The Honey Badger, this week's fierce little Working Dog Wednesday K9! She may be small and cute, but she has a big job as an Avalanche Search and Rescue Dog.
Tell us a little bit about Zoe, and why her nickname is "Honey Badger."
Zoe is a 4 year old Border Collie X Blue Heeler. Together we make up a fully validated avalanche rescue team with the Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA). Zoe is almost intimidatingly smart and energetic, and loves both work and play. When she's in action she's super vocal; barking and growling, surprisingly snarly for such a small dog. Her tenacity earned her the handle The Honey Badger. For a bit of a reference, and a good laugh YouTube "the honey badger.”
How did you two get into Avalanche SAR?
Training an avalanche dog is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I've been patrolling for almost 10 years. In that time, I always had an interest in the dog program and helped those guys out as much as I could. When one of the dogs retired (RIP Duke) the opportunity came up for a new handler and I jumped on it. Zoe came from a line of farm dogs and took to work like she was born for it.
Describe a day in the life on an Avalanche SAR team. Which part of this job is your favorite?
Zoe comes to work with me full-time, and the nature of our work can make everyday pretty different. We head up the mountain in the morning and are on stand-by for call outs to avalanche involvements in our surrounding area. Our standby time is filled with training for all aspects of safely getting to and searching a slide. We ski, run search simulations, ride gondolas, chairlifts, snowmobiles and snowcats, rope up and rappel and even get in the odd heli flight. Search training is the funnest, most rewarding part of our job and I try to get in at least one session a week. The mention of "search" and Zoe instantly switches on; she knows her job and we both really enjoy working together. A good search can be the highlight of any day. That and skiing powder... we do quite a bit of that too.
Why are K9s so beneficial to Search and Rescue?
K9s have an incredibly strong nose, a dog's sense of smell is about 1,000 to 10,000,000 times more sensitive than a human's (depending on the breed). We use this coupled with a dog's work drive (their eagerness to complete conditioned tasks) to train for avalanche rescue. Articles of clothing are "scented" (worn close to the skin for 3 or 4 days of sweaty patrolling) and then buried by a helper in the snow. We leave them there overnight to let the wind blow away any lingering surface scent and then let the dog go to work. It's spectacular watch them do their thing, really incredible animals.
What is the training and certification involved?
The CARDA training program has been developed from and with the help of the RCMP K9 Unit and is quite renowned for its regiment. We hold a variety of annual courses that are specifically tailored to the different stages in the development of an avalanche rescue team. Teams from not only Canada, but also the US and Europe, attend to train and validate under both CARDA and RCMP examiners. The whole process takes 2-3 years from cute cuddly pup to validation day, with a lifetime of training, courses and improvement to follow. It's a big commitment, but it's also super rewarding.
What do you two do in the off-season?
We search train a bit and obedience train here and there, but for Zo-dog summertime is chill time. Lots of biking, camping and hanging out at the lake.
Do you have a cool story you would like to share?
At 33 lbs. Zoe is, as far as CARDA dogs go, quite miniature. When she received her tailor made K9 Storm utility harness (shout out to @k9storm) there was an anonymous note penned on a post-it in the packaging: Smallest. One. Ever. :)