Dog handler retires after 33 years of helping others

Land Search and Rescue dog handler Dermot Mayock and his dog Cuchulainn are enjoying their...
Land Search and Rescue dog handler Dermot Mayock and his dog Cuchulainn are enjoying their retirement. PHOTO: LINDA ROBERTSON
After a Search and Rescue (SAR) career spanning more than three decades, a man is swapping headlamps and hiking boots for a quieter life, and taking his dog with him.

Dunedin Search and Rescue dog handler Dermot Mayock has spent about 33 years in Land Search and Rescue (LandSAR) in the United Kingdom and New Zealand, but has been a keen "bush basher" and dog trainer for much longer.

He spent the early days on the "periphery of SAR," until he started to help out as a "dog body" where he would hide in the bush for hours and wait for SAR dogs to find him.

The moment that convinced him to make the official jump, however, was the Lockerbie bombing in 1988, where a Pan Am flight bound for New York was bombed, killing all passengers and crew on board and 11 residents of Lockerbie, a village in Scotland.

"I wanted to go and help, but because of what it was they were only allowing people in uniforms and part of a team in.

"That’s when I decided to join."

His first callout was a surprise and ended up being an international news story after a 4-day-old baby was abducted from a hospital in northern Wales where he was living at the time.

While living in the United Kingdom, he was asked why he was not a dog handler.

He woke up the next morning and decided to do just that.

"It was a steep learning curve, but I absolutely loved it."

The first dog he trained, Oisin, attended more than 60 callouts a year in the UK to assist in search and rescue.

In 2001, Mr Mayock and Oisin moved to New Zealand and joined the Dunedin branch of LandSAR.

His current dog, 6-year-old Cuchulainn, retired alongside Mr Mayock.

"All my dogs have a personality, but [Cuchulainn], I think, has double the others."

Cuchulainn was the only LandSAR dog in the country who was a trained "refind'' dog.

He is trained in air scent, but instead of barking when he finds a missing person, he runs back to Mr Mayock and leads him to the person.

While Cuchulainn’s action-packed career ended prematurely, he is living a good life in retirement with Mr Mayock.

"He has a great life, if he sees me get on a bike he just goes crazy — he just loves going for bike rides."

Being in LandSAR was hectic and Mr Mayock juggled callouts with his job as a nurse.

"I’ve been out at 6am, went to work at 1pm, finished at 10pm then got a call at [midnight] — it was just full on."

After announcing his retirement, Mr Mayock ended up back in LandSAR in a training capacity, this time helping lead YouthSAR.

"Thirty-three years is a long time, and it’s not quite over yet — it is, but it isn’t, not for now at least."