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Fundraiser aims to give avalanche dogs a helping paw

by CAROLINE LOBSINGER
Staff Writer | March 26, 2023 1:00 AM

Thanks to prompt medical care, Annie — one of Schweitzer's beloved avalanche rescue dogs — is recovering from a heart attack she suffered earlier this month.

To help pay Annie's vets bills — and create a fund for all of the Schweitzer avalanche dogs — the group is holding a fundraiser at Burger Express. The Wednesday, March 29 event, will be held from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Sandpoint restaurant, 1301 U.S. 2.

All of the sales and proceed will go toward the vet bills and to the Schweitzer Avalanche Dog Program. The community is invited to stop by, say hello to the mountain's avalanche dogs, and help out the cause.

Those who can't make it to the fundraiser, can go to bit.ly/3ZgrbZ4 and donate online. Or stop by the dispatch office, located in the Skyhouse to make a donation in person — or purchase avalanche dog apparel, with proceeds to benefit the vet bill fund.

One of Schweitzer's belong avalanche dogs, luckily, Annie was with Schweitzer Ski Patrol when she had her heart attack on March 11. Annie received immediate medical care and was quickly transported to the nearby Pend Oreille Veterinary Service, Schweitzer Avalanche Dogs said in a post to the group's Instagram account.

"She was stabilized at the hospital and went through a battery of tests to determine the cause of her collapse," the group said. "We’re incredibly thankful for the service that Pend Oreille Veterinary Service provided Annie, and she is now recovering."

The group said the training and work the avalanche dogs perform can be strenuous. It takes, they added, a special dog — and intensive training — to do such work.

"Annie’s care — and the care of all of the dogs in our program — is of the utmost importance to us at the Schweitzer Avalanche Dog Program," the group wrote in the post.

Even before Annie's heart attack, program officials said they recognized the need for emergency vet bills. After the incident, the need for the fund became even more apparent.

Word of the emergency has prompted deep support for Annie — and the rest of the avalanche dogs. The positive thoughts and support are appreciated, program officials said.

Along with Annie, the team's avalanche dogs include Murphy, Abbey, and Maisie — all four of whom are featured on the Schweitzer Avalanche Dog Program's Instagram page.

The dogs have emerged as strong ambassadors for avalanche safety, if only because their cuteness is such a magnet, Schweitzer Ski Patrol and avalanche dog program officials said.

It is more common than not for skiers to come up to meet the dogs and, as part of the introduction process, learn more about avalanche safety in the bargain.

“That’s another advantage of the dogs,” ski patrol member Jeff Thompson said previously. “They generate a lot of conversations, which opens the door to a lot of educational opportunities.”

Program officials said the presence of avalanche rescue dogs at Schweitzer can be attributed to the increased popularity of the resort — and a growing population of people who love to ski out of bounds. While more and more people carry avalanche beacons, the dogs are trained to find and rescue skiers that get caught in an avalanche and need a helping paw.

Just such a scenario happened in the 2017-’18 ski season when a real avalanche situation trapped a skier without a beacon — and a Schweitzer avalanche dog came to the rescue.

Initially buried under about five feet of snow, the skier was about to poke a ski pole and glove through the surface. They were then rescued by one of the avalanche dogs.

Searching for someone in a similar situation can take up to two hours if they are not carrying a beacon, officials said previously. That timeline is condensed to 20 minutes or less when a trained rescue dog is scouring the debris field after an avalanche.

“I think it’s important to point out that skiing is safe,” Thompson said previously. “Our job on ski patrol is to mitigate any danger and we do everything we can to make that happen. But Mother Nature sometimes has a different plan — that’s where the dogs come in.

“They are here for those few, rare times when things get away from us.”

While each rescue dog starts with a primary handler, by the time they are certified and get a bit of experience behind them, handlers take a backup role in emergencies.

“The long-term goal is that they can work with anybody,” officials said previously. “Annie knows her job so well that she can do that now.”

The avalanche dogs are dedicated to their community, working hard to keep them safe and spreading the message of avalanche safety. Now, it is the community's turn by turning out to support the hand-working pups at Wednesday's fundraiser.

To donate, go online to bit.ly/3ZgrbZ4. For more information about Schweitzer Avalanche Dog Program, go online to instagram.com/schweitzer.avydogs.

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(Photo courtesy SCHWEITZER AVALANCHE DOG PROGRAM)

Schweitzer Ski Patrol members cheer as one of Schweitzer avalanche rescue dogs takes off during a training session. A fundraiser is planned for Wednesday, March 29, at Burger Express to raise money for an emergency veterinary bill fund for Annie and the other rescue dogs.

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(Photo courtesy SCHWEITZER AVALANCHE DOG PROGRAM)

Two of Schweitzer avalanche rescue dogs are pictured taking a well-earned nap. A fundraiser is planned for Wednesday, March 29, at Burger Express to raise money for an emergency veterinary bill fund for Annie and the other rescue dogs.

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(Photo courtesy SCHWEITZER AVALANCHE DOG PROGRAM)

One of Schweitzer avalanche rescue dogs goes through some training recently. A fundraiser is planned for Wednesday, March 29, at Burger Express to raise money for an emergency veterinary bill fund for Annie, who suffered a heart attack on March 11, and the other rescue dogs.