I’ve heard the cynical (and sometimes deep-down honest) joke that a dog’s life might be more important than an over-populated human’s. But most people that put beacons on their pet canines probably wouldn’t sacrifice their dog over a human friend or loved one. Which begs the question, do backcountry skiers who install standard frequency avalanche beacons on fido think all this through? Or are they just doing something that feels good at the moment or even seems somewhat novel and hip? Sort of like the booze barrel on a St. Barnard out on rescue missions in the Alps?
I’ve been there. Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s I had a husky named Princess that I loved dearly. For a while I strapped a beacon to her collar during jaunts in avy terrain around Crested Butte and Aspen.
But it didn’t take long for me to realize that placing a standard frequency avalanche beacon on a dog was ridiculous, if not downright criminal. To put it honestly, I value human lives over animal lives. If a dog was buried along with another person, and I dug up the dog first while the person died of suffocation, in my opinion that would be nothing less than negligent homicide. What’s more, anyone who’s been involved in an avalanche rescue with multiple individuals knows that a crux move is getting everyone’s beacon turned to receive, so they’re not transmitting and thus confusing. Having a dog prancing around with a transmitting beacon would just add to that sometimes nearly insurmountable problem.
Considering the above, it concerns me that anyone would beacon a dog, and that applies to trained rescue dogs as well. Sure, SAR dogs are valuable. But if an avalanche hit a rescue party you were with and made a multiple burial, how would you feel if you dug up a dog before you got to a human? I’ve seen a few ski patrol avy dogs with beacons on their harnesses — bogus.
Anyone care to weigh in?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.