Search and rescue dog Vesper nominated for Crufts Hero Dog Award

Our very own search and rescue dog has been announced as a finalist in The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award for her work assisting in international search and rescues.

Vesper, a four-year-old Belgian Malinois, works as a search and rescue dog in house as part of Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service (MFRS) and for United Kingdom International Search and Rescue Team (UKISAR).

In her career, she has been deployed to numerous disasters, most recently the 2023 earthquakes in Türkiye and Morocco. Alongside her handler, Crew Manager Niamh Darcy, she has been responsible for locating multiple live casualties and reuniting them with their families.

Vesper started out her life as a puppy in West Midlands Police’s breeding programme. Previously known as ‘Venom’, Vesper quickly decided she didn’t like the idea of being a police dog. Noticing her gentle nature, Breed Scheme Manager Dave Raymond realised she would be perfect in a different role.

“Vesper was extremely kind and very social. We wouldn’t call her a failed police dog, we would class her as a re-educated police dog. She’s gone on to do another role with the fire and rescue service where she is saving lives and helping people.”

When deployed to the earthquakes in Türkiye, Niamh and Vesper arrived around 36 hours after the earthquake initially hit. For over a week, Vesper and the team searched hundreds of buildings, located and rescued a number of survivors – reuniting people in their darkest hour.

Deputy Chief Fire Officer, Nick Searle, said: “Vesper is a live scent dog. Once picking up a scent, she will give a signal, which is normally a bark, and then will sit in that position so we can identify exactly where to start digging.

“I can’t explain how important that is to families who have relatives trapped under rubble overseas, like in Türkiye last year. If we can bring one loved one to the surface, our job is worth doing and Vesper has done this on numerous occasions.”

Vesper has an incredibly close bond with her handler Niamh, which is what allows them to do their job so well. Outside of work, she and lives with Niamh and her canine siblings Pi and Scout.

In recognition of receiving the nomination, Niamh said: “Vesper has located live casualties in disasters all over the world and has saved many lives.

“Although it is a game to them, to us it is a life or death situation. She not only gives us those important answers of where live casualties are located, she also gives me and lots of other people in the world hope.

Vesper is one of four finalists in the Kennel Club Hero Dog Awards. A public vote to decide a winner is now open and you can vote here: The Kennel Club Hero Dog Award at Crufts | Crufts 2024