From 'Rescued Dog' to 'Trainee Search and Rescue Dog'

Rafi the Border Collie from Dogs Trust Shoreham finds a new home

Rafi the border collie with his owner Jae

Rafi, an ex-resident at Dogs Trust Shoreham, has landed on his paws after trading in his title as ‘Rescued Dog’ to ‘Trainee Search and Rescue Dog’.

This time last year, Jae Wilkes – a Search Technician for Search Dogs Sussex, found herself looking to fill the paw-print shaped hole that was left in her heart after her beloved Border Collie, Skye, sadly lost her battle to cancer.

Realising that she could no longer be without a dog, Jae sought the help of fellow SAR team member Vicky Grylls – an Assistant Manager at the Sussex-based Rehoming Centre.

Jae was looking for a dog who would be her companion, as well as continuing Skye’s legacy in becoming a Search and Rescue Dog. Explaining that she’d ideally like another female Border Collie who was good with children and aged between 8-18 months, Jae anticipated that she might be waiting quite a while until the ‘pawfect’ pooch came along.

However, it only took a few weeks until Vicky rang to say that she thought she had found Jae’s match.

The canine in question was a male Crossbreed, aged only 6 months – so not quite the dog that Jae had imagined. Nonetheless, Vicky made the suggestion after learning that he was great with children and, to her judgement, had the potential to make an excellent Search Dog. Equally, he was incredibly energetic with the busy brain to match, so Vicky knew that he would thrive on an active lifestyle where he could fully express his character.

On first meeting Rafi, Jae says:

“We went to Dogs Trust Shoreham to meet Rafi and when we arrived we were greeted with a medium-sized, black and white dog with a curly tail and the cutest face. After taking him for a walk and getting to know him, we were able to sit and play with him in one of the meeting rooms. It was clear to see that he was used to having children around, as he was incredibly gentle with my 18-month-old Granddaughter.

We were told to go home and think about whether we would like to proceed with the adoption and call back in the morning if we were still interested. We talked about him non-stop during our journey home and continued reminiscing about our meeting all evening too, so we were certain that we wanted to give him a home.”

Speaking about how Rafi settled in at home, Jae says:

“After a home visit and the completion of the rehoming procedure I went and collected Rafi. As well as his adoption pack, he came with the bed he arrived at the centre with, his favourite toy (a furry snake) and some food.

Within two days he had killed his favourite toy and by the end of the week, his bed had met the same fate!

Having experienced lots of change within his life, it seemed to take a while for Rafi to realise that our home was his ‘forever’. If we took him anywhere in the car his face would drop, so we think he might have thought he was going to be rehomed again.

Car journeys began to get easier once he realised that they were associated with fun activities – like a once weekly trip to the canine swimming pool, or training classes to do scent, trick and obedience work.

Rafi now loves travelling in my caravan and going away for a long weekend. We’ve shared trips to Somerset, Kent, Lancashire and beyond!”

Rafi the Border Collie and Jae on a walk   Rafi the search rescue dog swimming  

After Rafi felt fully settled into home-life, Jae then pursued in her dream for her new furry-companion to work alongside her, as part of the Search Dogs Sussex team.

About Search Dogs Sussex

Search Dogs Sussex supply nationally qualified search dog teams to support the police in looking for missing persons. They provide an emergency on call service 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call outs are exclusively via the police through a call out coordinator who is able to be contacted by the police and other Lowland Search teams who require additional dog teams any time of the day and night.

They are members of the national umbrella organisation of Lowland Rescue, who assess all dogs and handlers, at quarterly held national assessments, prior to them becoming operational. Dogs and handlers are re-assessed every 2 years ensuring all teams maintain the required national operational standards.

On how Rafi begun his journey as a Search and Rescue Dog in training, Jae explains:

“Last November I took Rafi along to our Search Training to do his pre-assessment – a test to show he is not aggressive towards other dogs or people. It also aims to demonstrate his basic obedience level and confirms if he can be lifted up by another team member if required.

Prior to the test, I had been practicing the obedience element of the training– part of which is a two minute "stay" whilst standing 2 meters away from the dog. It is amazing how long two minutes becomes when you have an eleven-month old pup! After many attempts it seemed we just couldn't grasp it.

The day of the assessment came and was taking place in the woods with many new smells and distractions –making it all that more challenging. It was Rafi’s turn to complete his “stay” and to my amazement, he remained still…even when a leaf fell onto his nose and bounced off! He did it and became ‘Trainee Search Dog Rafi’!”

search rescue dog in tunnel   Rafi the search rescue dog  

Speaking of how Rafi is continuing in his efforts to become a Search Dog, Jae says:

“Once a week we would attend team training somewhere within Sussex, and every week he remembered what he had learnt the week before.

Rafi would always get so excited, he loves his training and is such a quick learner, so I would always finish training with a huge grin on my face.

Due to the Coronavirus, his training has been halted but we try to do little bits at home so that when we go back he hasn't forgotten everything. We are doing the online tricks course with Sussex County Dog Training and can still go for nice long walks.

Rafi has definitely found his forever home, he has gone from being a rescued dog to becoming a Trainee Search and Rescue dog.”

Rafi the search rescue dog  

Vicky Grylls, Rehoming Centre Assistant Manager at Dogs Trust Shoreham says:

"We are so glad that Rafi is finally living his life to its fullest potential. While in our care, he showed himself to be a fun, interactive and very smart boy who thrived when learning. So it was a destined to be when Jae reached out to me when looking for a dog who could work alongside her as part of the Search and Rescue team.”

You can follow Rafi’s journey to becoming a fully-fledged, Search and Rescue Dog on Instagram at @Trainee_SearchDog_Rafi.

If you think you could provide a loving home for one of the rescue dogs at Dogs Trust Shoreham, please give them a call on 0300 303 0292. The centre is currently closed to the public but open to an appointment-only system in correlation with latest government guidelines.