Dogs...some of the best adventure companions one can find. They are unmatched in their loyalty, eager to be outside regardless of the weather, generally agreeable with their owner's sense of direction, and can provide an additional level of safety in the outdoors. What more can you ask for in an outdoor adventure pal? How about a search-and-rescue dog who loves the snow and is trained for recovering avalanche burial victims?
With the winter months now upon us, and in honor of our canine companions that thrive when the snow falls, we're thrilled to release our fifth and final episode of this year's Outdoor Adventure Dogs series in collaboration with Tito's Handmade Vodka. This five-part video series features a unique group of active adventure dogs, their relationships with their owners and handlers, and the lives they live together oriented around the outdoors.
Beyond their association as dogs deeply connected to the outdoors, all of the dogs in this series share another important attribute: They are all rescued animals that come rescued from a shelter or from a less-than-ideal prior situation. Whether it's a look at a photographer's trusty canine sidekick providing creative inspiration, working ski patrol avalanche rescue dogs, or "wilderness therapy dogs" helping introduce newcomers to outdoor activities outside of their comfort zone, Outdoor Adventure Dogs is a fun and touching window into the lives of rescued dogs that end up doing some rescuing of their own.
Outdoor Adventure Dogs continues with Episode 5, featuring another one of our favorite types of adventure dogs: an avalanche rescue dog. In this episode we get to know Enzo, her owner/trainer Anna Laxague, and Enzo's on-mountain handler, Dave Baker, a professional ski patroller and head of Mt. Hood Meadow's Avalanche Rescue Dog program in northern Oregon. You can learn more about Enzo's story in the interview with Anna below.
Anna: Enzo is a 40-pound Labrador retriever and border collie mix. Her dad was a 90-pound chocolate lab, and mom was a 35-pound short-haired border collie, working dog. She’s super goofy, expressive, trusting, and extremely loyal. She loves to play, and she’s always looking for ways to get people to engage with her. She’s game to do just about anything she’s told as she trusts her people have her back, so it’s fun to put her in new situations and watch her adapt (whitewater rafting, helicopters, etc.). She likes to sleep in in the mornings, and when there’s nothing going, on she conserves her energy by napping, often on her back with her legs splayed out in all directions.
Anna: Enzo’s roll here is to be a full time member of the Avy Dog team at Meadows. She comes to work with me everyday, attends meetings and events with her handlers and me, walks through the lodge and spends time on the hill to help engage guests in snow safety, and most days she goes out to do training drills with her handlers. I am the manager in our Risk Management department, which is closely connected to ski patrol and shares a workspace, making it easy for Enzo to hang out in the office with me but be available to her handlers. I handle a lot of our workplace safety, workplace wellness and general liability in addition to our commercial filming and photography permits, and when I can, I get out with Enzo to run drills and photograph our Avy Dog team in action. I also handle our Avy Dog team social media and work with Dave Baker, Enzo's ski patrol handler, on marketing, event planning, and sponsorship.
Anna: About a year after my husband Jason and I started dating, we adopted a rescue dog named Moxy. We spent the next 11 years traveling and working together on the road, and Moxy was with us for every day of that adventure. She was a constant in our lives, and saying goodbye to her was one of the hardest things we’ve gone through individually or as a couple. Losing a dog that’s been by your side every hour of every day for 11 years was different than any other loss I’d experienced. She had bladder cancer, and we had only a couple of weeks from the day we found out she was sick to the day we let her go. We loved her with everything we had. When we said goodbye, we decided we’d wait six months to start looking for another dog, do some international travel, and give it some time. That plan didn’t work. We both felt so empty without Moxy; we missed her, and we missed her companionship. A good friend of mine encouraged me to consider skipping the six month wait, and I’m glad we listened to him. We started scouring local dog rescues in search of a younger and active dog that would fit into a lifestyle that consisted of tons of travel, tons of adventure. I stumbled upon a litter of unplanned puppies in Washington. A week later we picked Enzo up and took her on her first road trip to see my in-laws for the holidays. She took the edge off our sadness and slowly began to push it aside as we mourned Moxy and learned the fascinating art of raising a puppy. She was six weeks old when we brought her home.
Anna: To be honest, we weren’t looking for an avalanche rescue dog when we met Enzo. I was well connected with ski patrol and friends with Dave (Enzo’s handler and our Avy Dog lead), but I didn’t work at Mt. Hood Meadows when we decided to bring her home. I was planning to leave the position I was in with the International Mountain Bicycling Association, but I hadn’t decided where I was headed yet. Moxy was 1.5 years old when we adopted her, so Jason and I had limited experience with puppies, and we reached out to Dave for guidance on how best to start training her. Dave suggested the same training techniques used with avy puppies and hinted at the idea of bringing her onto the team at some point. Luckily, things fell into place perfectly for all of us.
Anna: 2018 marks the 10th year of our avalanche rescue dog program. Enzo is starting her third season, and she’s right in the middle of the pack age-wise.
Anna: It was really Enzo who sparked my interest. From the beginning we knew we had an exceptionally trainable and driven girl, and I knew she’d love to have a job. Enzo was comfortable in any situation we put her in. She learned new tricks and behavior in no time, and she loved and excelled at training. Because we were already connected with Dave and the rest of the ski patrol team, it was a pretty seamless transition.
Anna: A good avalanche rescue dog is loyal, has a good “chase” instinct, is food driven, and trusting, among other things. They need to trust their handler, but they also need to have confidence to work independently of their handler when they are involved in a search. In addition to the avalanche rescue drills, we also rely on our dogs to be part of our outreach and safety messaging, so they need to be ready to attend crowded events, interact with lots of people, and put up with a lot of stimulus.
Anna: We work on something everyday. Whether she’s working with her handler doing drills on the hill or we’re doing obedience work at home. There isn’t a day that we don’t train in some way. Enzo loves training, and it keeps her obedience sharp, but it also keeps her mind sharp. She never knows when I’m going to ask her to sit-stay and reward her with some play or a treat, so the more I do it, the more vigilant she is with paying attention to me and her handler.
Anna: Enzo’s day starts with a very exuberant breakfast dance in the kitchen while I get coffee going and feed her. We usually show up on the mountain between 6:00 and 7:30 a.m. depending on conditions, and when we enter the locker room she goes straight to her crate in my office. She spends 5 to 10 minutes in there while ski patrol boots up and gets ready for their morning meeting. Once the meeting starts she comes out and sit-stays while patrol plans their day (it’s important for the dogs to be able to stay calm during a meeting, whether it’s out on the hill at the scene of an avalanche or indoors). She’s rewarded for crate/meeting time with playtime when she and her buddies get to be dogs and play in the locker room while patrol heads outside. After a round of tug-o-war with her co-workers she hangs out with me in the office, usually makes a trip or two to the lodge while I run errands, and she visits her favorite people. Once the mountain is open Dave will often come down and take her up on the hill for a run or to hang out at patrol HQ (mid-mountain), and in the afternoon she’ll usually go out and do some drills with Dave and other members of the Avy Dog team. We head home between 4:00 and 5:00. Sometimes we’ll stop for a quick lap on skate skis or some social time on our way home. Then it’s dinner and relaxing by the fire at home with Jason and me.
Anna: Dave has been on Mt. Hood Meadows pro patrol for 15 years. He is one of the Ski Patrol Supervisors and is heavily involved in patrol training, managing equipment inventory/ordering, and he is our Avy Dog supervisor. He handles his dog Stella and Enzo, and he is responsible for coordinating training and leading our Avy Dog training program.
Anna: The avy dog team shares a lot of responsibility with the dogs. We all follow the same training guidelines, which makes it easy to help and easy to share handling responsibility. Enzo’s avy training is primarily handled by Dave and Grant (her secondary handler), but I will come out and help when I can. My role is primarily feeding, watering, playing, and obedience. It’s important that I understand the training process, but Dave leads it. Enzo goes home with me, she runs and mountain bikes with me and my husband, travels with us, and to us she’s a companion. Luckily we get to interact with Dave a lot outside of work, too, so she sees him all the time. She seems to have a pretty good handle on the difference between work and life and has a good work/life balance.
Anna: Thankfully, none of our dogs have responded to a real avalanche rescue. It's really strange putting so much time into training a dog to do something we hope they never have to do.
Anna: She chose the working life by being such a smart little beast. Like I mentioned before…we were just looking for an adventure companion when we found Enzo, and she made it clear that she wanted a job.
Anna: Enzo does just about everything with me outside of work. We backpack, mountain bike, hike, run, climb, swim, hang out, travel, camp, go on multi-day backcountry trips…the list goes on. She goes everywhere I go. This summer she went on her first multi-day whitewater trip. We floated the Middle Fork of the Salmon River in Idaho with an awesome crew of friends. She’d never been on a raft, and she styled it. I think I was more nervous for her than she was in the beginning, but she adapts to just about any situation you put her in, and she loves water. Now she also loves whitewater!
Anna: My husband and I were attracted to a rescue because, to us, a dog’s breed is of little importance. Moxy was a purebred with papers, and someone neglected her in a backyard for the first year and a half of her life. She ended up with us because she needed us and we needed her. It had nothing to do with her breed. The only thing we considered with Enzo was that we knew we wanted a dog that could run, and we knew we couldn’t go through a loss like the one we’d just been through again anytime soon, so we wanted a young dog.
Anna: DO IT. There are so many dogs who are living in shelters that are overlooked because of their breed, or their age, or maybe they’ve got health issues, but they will love you like you can’t imagine. My parents and brother both have dogs who were rescued from shelters, and they are two of the most amazing dogs I know. I wish I could rescue all the dogs. Honestly, if I had the means I’d start a rescue ranch and save every animal I could.
Anna: Make sure you have an excellent vet, and listen to them. I see a lot of people skiing, mountain biking, and running with dogs that are clearly struggling. Know what your dog is capable of and don’t push them. Dogs don’t always know when to stop, and over exertion is a recipe for joint problems, which means less years playing outdoors with them. Moxy could hang for a 20-mile mountain bike ride when she was young and be fine the next day, but as she got older, those miles were reduced. Your dog needs you to monitor their activity and take care of them. Pay attention to how they recover from big adventures. Just like us, they get sore, they get hurt, and they need recovery time. Also, just like us they need good fuel…feed them well, supplement their food when you need to just like you would yourself. If Enzo has had a big day, she gets a big dinner, and if I know she’s going to have a big day, she gets a big breakfast. She’ll also get fish oil and maybe a little coconut oil mixed in with her food. I want her to be able to run with me long into her senior years, so I pay careful attention to how she’s feeling and give her days off when she needs them.
Anna: I don’t even know where to start with this one. Every day with her is pretty memorable. She’s such a rad dog. She accidently treed a mountain lion while I was mountain biking this summer. I didn’t realize what she had in the tree when I came around the corner (she’s always chasing squirrels) until it leapt out of the tree about 8 feet in front of me and took off down the trail in the direction we were headed. At first I thought it was a bobcat, but it was too big. She chased it down the trail, disappeared for a few very scary minutes, and then came bolting back to me with her tail between her legs. She stuck pretty close for the rest of the ride.
You can keep up to date with Enzo and the rest of the Mount Hood Meadows Avy Dog Team here.
Thank you for tuning in this season for the 2018 Outdoor Adventure Dog series. Watch the rest of the episodes and learn about the dogs in the series below: