Bryn - the border collie from Cheshire has saved countless lives across the world

Steve Buckley and Border Collie, Bryn

Steve Buckley and Border Collie, Bryn - Credit: Archant

They say a dog is a man’s best friend. But Steve Buckley and his border collie, Bryn, have been a help to many people. Emma Mayoh reports

Steve Buckley and Bryn

Steve Buckley and Bryn - Credit: n/a

When Border Collie Bryn came running out of a building devastated by a tsunami in Japan, his owner thought the worst. The 11-year-old dog has blood all over his legs and he looked badly hurt. The image made headlines around the world and Bryn’s pictures graced the front page of a national newspaper. It looked so dramatic Steve had to call wife Sylvia back home in Mobberley to reassure her that their prized pooch was well.

Steve said: ‘Bryn’s leg was super-glued and bandaged and he was back out again helping the next day. But it did look bad at first. It wasn’t actually a bad cut but, because he was running around and his heart was pumping, there was a lot of blood on his leg.

‘It made a dramatic photograph for the front of The Daily Mail – so much so I had to borrow a satellite phone from a British TV crew so I could call Sylvia – I don’t normally have contact when I’m away but this was important. She would have been worried about him.’

But these are the risks and pitfalls Steve and Bryn face together. The pair are on the UK’s International Search and Rescue Team and can be called out at a moment’s notice if there is a disaster, catastrophe or even a terrorist attack that has happened. Bryn was trained from being a puppy and he and Steve, a firefighter with Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, are widely recognised as one of the best dog and handler teams in the country.

Steve said: ‘I was in India in 2001 following the Gujarat earthquake. There were 12,300 people who lost their lives. The UK team had only one dog at that time but it was there that I saw search dogs in action for the first time.

‘Where it could take our team two or three hours to clear an area, despite all the technical equipment and cameras, those dogs and handlers could cover the ground so much quicker. When we returned to the UK I put a case together for Cheshire to have a search and rescue dog.’

Most Read

Bryn became graded for operations in 2005. In 2009, Steve and Bryn travelled to the Czech Republic to participate in what is considered to be the most stringent testing process in the world, the International Rescue Dog Organisation’s mission readiness test. Steve has since assessed dogs and handlers capabilities in America, Argentina, Spain, Romania, Austria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Saudi Arabia and Australia.

They have worked on rescue missions in India, Sumatra, Japan and most recently in Nepal following the earthquake that devastated the country.

Steve said: ‘Some of the situations we have been in have been awful. In Nepal we were travelling to very remote areas where there was nothing there to help the people, not even a hospital because it had come down in the earthquake.

‘A group of us helped us to get electricity back to that hospital building and that felt incredible. Bryn is trained to find live bodies and that’s what he focuses on first. But then he is involved in body retrieval too. This can bring great comfort to families who are then able to at least bury their loved ones. Bryn has never actually found a survivor because it doesn’t happen a lot in these kinds of situations. But when a team does find someone alive it is such an incredible moment.

‘Bryn and I have worked in some challenging environments like in the Japan tsunami in 2011 when there was the threat a nuclear power station nearby was unstable. IT can be stressful and intense. It is always difficult to acclimatise when I come home. Thinking all of that devastation is still going on. But it is good that we were able to help in some way. I just spend plenty of time with Bryn.’

Now, it is time for Bryn to put away his passport and spend quality at home. Although he won’t be going on any more international trips the 11-year-old will still be working for the Avon Fire and Rescue Urban Search team. But there will also be a lot more opportunity for rest, going for walks with Fenn and Pippa, Steve’s two other dogs.

But Steve is showing no signs of slowing down. He will soon be the owner of a Stabyhoun dog. He is hoping to train the bitch up to be a missing person search dog.

He said: ‘I still want to be able to help other people. It’s that thing that you can make a difference.

‘This new puppy may not be suitable for what I am thinking of but we will wait and see.’