Volunteers on Svalbard are training rescue dogs to help save lives during avalanches

After a fatal avalanche hit Longyearbyen on Svalbard in 2015, a group of dog-loving volunteers decided to start Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs Svalbard. Today, the organisation has educated certified equipages to do searches in high-risk operations for missing people in avalanches and in the wilderness.

The volunteers had no previous experience and training in the field, but like everyone else in Longyearbyen, they participated in the search for missing people after the major and fatal avalanche in 2015.  

Inspired by this unsettling event, the group started training in 2016 and today the dog handlers meet two-to-three times per week to train the dogs together. Amongst their dogs we have a Toller, a Hunting Labrador, a Border Collie, and a German Shepherd. The organisation cooperates with the Red Cross and the Governor of Svalbard. Instructors from the Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs come from the mainland to teach. In addition to the two certified equipages, six more are training to reach the top level of education as we speak. 

As Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs Svalbard is a humanitarian non-profit voluntary organisation, the need for sponsors is crucial in keeping the organisation active. Hurtigruten Foundation is a proud sponsor of the organisation and has now been supporting Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs Svalbard for five years, but our collaboration is more than just financial support. When instructors from the mainland visit Svalbard to educate the equipages, they are supported with free hotel rooms, meeting rooms and dinners by the Hurtigruten Foundation in cooperation with Hurtigruten Svalbard. 

Voluntary work has a strong standing in Norway and especially in small societies, such as Longyearbyen, where every person contributing is needed to make projects come alive and stay active.  

“Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs Svalbard are very grateful for the continued support from Hurtigruten Foundation. Without the support we would not be able to educate the rescue equipages. It enables us to have close contact with the instructors on the mainland so we can develop and improve. It takes three to four years to educate an equipage. It demands hours and hours of training before the dog and the dog handler are ready for an exam, which is taken on the mainland. The dog handlers must take time off work to do this. So, all in all, this education requires a lot of resources,” says Elisabeth Johannessen from the organisation.  

The volunteers spend a lot of time with their dogs through the training and they are driven by how personally fulfilling it is, in addition to being a very important contribution to the local society. The arctic nature and weather on the island of Svalbard is both arduous and unpredictable, so the search and rescue dogs are much needed when accidents occur. Going forward Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs Svalbard will continue to focus on recruiting and training new equipages to their organisation.

Where can I learn more? 

The Hurtigruten Foundation believes in collaborating for change and after six years of funding important projects, we are happy to see results and visible difference being made by the organisations that we are supporting. Do you wish to apply for funding? You can read more about the foundation here

About Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs Svalbard 

Norwegian Search and Rescue Dogs Svalbard is a voluntary non-profit organisation that trains dogs to become certified search and rescue dogs for callouts, performing searches in avalanches and wilderness after missing people on Svalbard.