Well-known avalanche dog dies
Doc, the life-saving golden retriever, closed his eyes for the last time three weeks ago and died peacefully in the arms of his owner.
It’s a decision that many pet owners must eventually face, but for Dave Paradysz, Doc’s owner, it was an especially mournful time. Doc, who was 12 years old and suffering from a heart tumor, was no ordinary pet – he was Dave’s work partner.
“When you work with your dog every day, they become your partner,” Dave said. “I’m sure the police say the same thing. The dog knows what you’re thinking without you ever having to say anything.”
It was Doc’s knack for sniffing out the lost and injured that led the two on various search missions. Paradysz would give the commands as Doc marched ahead, searching for clues invisible to humans but obvious to a dog that knows what he’s looking for.
“We’ve searched all over the place. We responded to the Oakland Hills fire, we’ve been to a plane crash in Montana, to the Loma Prieta earthquake and all over the Sierra looking for people who were lost,” he said. “One time, we found the remains of some snowmobilers out in the backcountry.”
Though well-traveled for a dog, Doc always loved his home best – the top of Chair 2 at Kirkwood Mountain Resort.
Paradysz and Doc started on the Kirkwood ski patrol in 1989. They’ve been there ever since, although Doc retired from the drudgery of everyday work in 1998 and Paradysz moved on to become the mountain’s risk manager this year.
It was on Kirkwood’s steep avalanche-prone slopes where Doc earned his status as one of the few dogs to uncover an avalanche victim still alive.
Paradysz recalled the situation as an easy exercise for Doc, who used to train at least twice a week for avalanche rescue.
“We responded from the top and Doc started digging up against these trees and it was only 10 or 15 seconds before he found him. He was completely buried under 4 feet of snow,” he said. “There’s less than a half of dozen live finds in the United States with trained dogs.”
The rescue made Doc famous with the media, earning him spots on television news shows, documentaries and magazine features. Paradysz discounts the miracle and insists that it was only a simple hide-and-seek game.
“Doc expected to go to work every morning, he just loved it,” Paradysz said. “If he found someone he’d go find a big stick or a pine cone and bring it to me – he’d want to tell me that he found something.”
Doc, who came from a search-dog lineage, started his own family of finders.
He sired two litters. One litter produced Buzz, who served as Heavenly’s first avalanche rescue dog. Buzz, who is now retired, fathered a few litters which birthed Bernie and Rusty, two spunky goldens who still work on Heavenly’s slopes.
Paradysz said training a search dog is extremely time intensive.
Doc started his training at 11 weeks old and was certified by 11 months for area search. At 2, he was ready for any scenario in avalanche rescue. His specialty was searching in wilderness conditions.
And it’s Kirkwood’s wilderness where Doc will finally come to rest. Paradysz said he plans to scatter the ashes on the slopes where Doc used to spend his days, waiting for affection from passing skiers at the top of the resort’s lifts.
“Even after he was retired, we’d bring him on the hill just for his own happiness, that’s where he wanted to be,” Paradysz said. “People took to him straight away, they’d remember him year after year being at the top of the lift.”
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