Volunteer Rescue Association dog Jato trained to help find missing people across NSW

The Volunteer Rescue Association NSW (VRA Rescue NSW) has welcomed a new search-and-rescue dog to the Snowy Mountains to help find missing people.

Jato is a five-year-old border collie based in Berridale, with a specific skill set in area search and scent-specific trailing.

His handler Mel Potter, who has worked with search-and-rescue dogs in New Zealand, Canada and the US for the past 20 years, said a dog’s physicality and tracking abilities were an asset during an emergency.

“Their ability to find things with their nose is almost supernatural,” she said.

“If there’s a two-metre cliff drop, where a volunteer has to walk around it, the dog’s just going to jump off it.”

Jato, which stands for “Jet Assisted Take Off”, is also being trained in avalanche searches.

He and Ms Potter follow a regimented training schedule, including extensive bush searches, and are ready to be dispatched to any part of NSW at moment’s notice to help find a missing person on a volunteer basis.

But as professional as Jato is, Ms Potter said he was also her companion and had quirks, just like any other dog.

“He loves swimming in Lake Jindabyne but doesn’t like it when it rains and walking on wet grass,” she said.

“But he gets over it pretty quickly.”

A special dog
Jato is one of two qualified search-and-rescue dogs that have become available for the VRA this year.

Several other dogs across NSW and the ACT are being trained in similar skills, and are based in Nowra, Wellington, Sydney and Canberra.

Squad captain for the VRA rescue search dogs Sue Pritchard said Jato’s skills were a credit to Ms Potter’s diligent training.

“He’s dual-qualified, which is incredibly special,” Ms Pritchard said.

“He’s qualified for area search which takes a good year of training and he’s also qualified for scent-specific trailing, which means he can focus on the scent of one person.”

During an area search or scent-specific trailing, Jato never strays more than 200 metres from his handler.

If he finds the missing person in question, he returns to his handler and alerts them using a bark or a bounce.

“Thousands and thousands of hours and years of work have been put into this dog to have him able to do this sort of work,” Ms Pritchard said.

“We’re very lucky to have them both as part of the team.”