A Well-Trained Dog

A profile on Baloo the avalanche dog and his handler, Janie.

Cascade and Copper have been Janie Merickel’s avalanche dogs at Copper Mountain, and now Baloo is following suit. As the Supervisor, or Assistant Director at Copper Mountain Ski Patrol and there since 1995, she just received her 20-year longevity award. Merickel took one year off because her first son was born one December, and the 20 years are combined when summing up her time before taking that year off and her work after. Merickel has received a ton of support in training Baloo (both from ski patrol and the resort as a whole), and while there’s avalanche danger anytime you’re skiing, Merickel predicts that most of their rescue work will come outside the resort. When I asked what was her drive for training avalanche dogs, she says “dogs choose me; I’m just trying to live up to it.”

 

What made you think about/want to train an avy dog?

 

I’ve always loved having dogs as friends. My first dogs were just that- friends. Fella was a crazy cocker spaniel I had in kindergarten that my grandfather bought me while my dad was in Vietnam. He let me dress him up in my spare clothes, sat with me at my lemonade stand, and was a great, silly, happy dog. Some of my greatest “dog friends” were not even owned by my parents- they lived around the neighborhood and would come over to hang out. I think this is when I started to feel like dogs choose me. I feel like the dogs I knew started to believe in me first, and I didn’t want to let them down. My “neighbor” dogs taught me how to leverage a dog’s skills.

 

Are you guys CRAD certified?

Yes- I’m honored to say I have been C-RAD validated with both Copper and Baloo. Copper is a wise golden retriever, happy at home, retired, and is so smart that she kind of runs the house. Baloo is a silly black lab and my current dog. In addition to CRAD, we are also working to get certified in wilderness “airscent” search with SARDOC (Search and Rescue Dogs of Colorado). We’ve been on a few missions, but haven’t found anybody yet– we haven’t rescued someone alive, out of the snow– but that’s the dream, that’s what I believe in.

 

 

What are the things that you have to look out for in a rescue?

Rescue can be risky, so my first thoughts revolve around safety. I want everyone involved in the rescue to find out if the scene is safe, is the route that we are in safe, and what is the safe route out. That way, we can lower the risk significantly.

The reporting party is immensely valuable, too- we ask them what happened, how many are involved, when it occurred, and if they are able to help. After learning a few key pieces of information, we can move forward swiftly.

Most of the time I envision that Baloo and I would be some of the first on scene, but that’s not always the case- things change if you’re 20th on scene. We try and practice all of these different scenarios during our training days.

 

 

Has Baloo done any work in the resort, besides training for avalanche rescues?

Baloo loves people- especially kids, and gets a lot of attention as we ski down the mountain.  He runs under the chairlift, and people get stoked as we ski by them on the way to the Lower Patrol Room. I don’t think we “need” him for any patrol work, besides making our guests happy as they come in to a duty station to warm up. Baloo is fierce in the field, but he has a great “on/off” switch, so when he’s in non-working mode, he’s a true lover.

 

What is the best part of “work” for Baloo? For him and you?

We love the avalanche rescue expectation and do our best to respond to that.  When we go to work, it seems like he’s always waiting, always ready to go. He’ll demand attention from all the other patrollers in the room, but he’s got an eye on me, and if I make a move, he’s at my side in an instant.

But when we’re home, tired after a good day, he’s curled up by my side while I wind down. That bond between us is one of the best things in my life.

 

 

Do you guys have a favorite place- Patrol Headquarters, Timberline, Motel 6?

These days, I’d say our favorite place isn’t a duty station- we’d rather be outside, on the mountain, and he’s good at riding in a chairlift with me. Skiers and riders squeal with joy as they watch Baloo come to me on command and in control. People often say “look at that well-trained dog!” and guests seem happy to see him perform. I’m relieved he doesn’t “break” and go see them, and he’s matured nicely, so the training is fun. It’s taken us a while to get to this point, but it’s awesome and I’d say Baloo loves it just as much as I do. I work hard on patrol, and it’s great to get away from the duty station with Baloo and do some training for the benefit of others. It makes both of our days.

 

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