Border Collie Skye receives ‘Animal OBE’ for a lifetime of outstanding devotion

A Mountain Rescue Search Dog from the Lake District who completed over 200 searches during her 11-year career has been honoured by the UK vet charity, PDSA.

Border Collie Skye, who is believed to be the oldest working Mountain Rescue Search Dog in the UK when she finally retired in September 2020 at 14-and-a-half years old, has today received the PDSA Order of Merit* for her outstanding devotion to duty and service to society.

Skye, together with her handler John Leadbetter (49) searched day and night in all weathers, supporting the Lake District Mountain Rescue Teams (MRT) to locate missing people. Her unique skills have helped her to clear and discount vast areas of land on searches in often treacherous conditions, speeding up searches and enabling people to be found quickly.

Commenting on the award, PDSA Director General Jan McLoughlin said: “We’re incredibly proud to be honouring Skye with our PDSA Order of Merit. Her exceptional skills and outstanding devotion above and beyond that of normal companionship make her a very worthy recipient, and we feel this is a fitting tribute to her lifetime of dedication and hard work. Her long and distinguished career has not only seen her protect and help people in danger, her ambassadorial work has helped to raise important funds and increase awareness of the incredible work these Mountain Rescue Teams perform.”

Skye is the 36th animal to receive the PDSA Order of Merit, which was instituted in 2014 to recognise animals for their exceptional contribution to society. PDSA provides free and low cost vet care for pets whose owners are in financial hardship and have nowhere else to turn. The PDSA Animal Awards Programme helps to raise the status of animals in society, in the hope that in doing so, they become better treated and respected.

Reacting to the award, her handler and owner John, who has 30 years of experience working in mountain rescue, said: “Skye means everything to me, she’s my best friend on the fells and we’re life-long partners. To see her receive the PDSA Order of Merit is a truly humbling and touching experience, and it’s a wonderful recognition of the time and hard work that Search Dogs and their teams dedicate to mountain safety. To say we’re chuffed is an understatement!”

Skye’s story

Born in 2006, Skye initially served as a puppy trainee with Bowland Pennine MRT before transferring to Duddon and Furness MRT. After completing her training with the Lake District Mountain Rescue Search Dog Association she graded, qualifying in 2009, and continued to serve with Duddon and Furness MRT as a Graded Search Dog until transferring to Langdale and Ambleside MRT, and finally Kendal Mountain Search and Rescue Team (MSRT). She and John have attended searches all over the Lake District, from the remotest valleys to the widest coastal expanses, but they were also sent further afield to Lancashire, the Pennines and Scotland.

During her 11-year career, which also places her among the longest serving Mountain Rescue Search Dogs in the country, she attended around 200 search callouts. She operated mainly in mountainous, remote areas, but also sometimes supported local Police in semi-rural and urban areas to locate vulnerable people missing from care homes, the young and the elderly.

Some of her most notable searches include:

  • September 2012 – a family were reported late returning from a walk during worsening weather. Skye and John were assigned to a remote valley, heading into bad weather she searched for 20 minutes before indicating she had found the family, ending what could have been a long and complex search.
  • November 2014 – a family had become disorientated on a mountain summit as darkness fell. The MRT were able to locate the family at the summit, and Skye provided support and comfort to one of the children as they descended the mountain, the light on her harness and gentle nature helping to keep the child calm.
  • January 2018 – Skye provided assistance in a 72-hour search for a missing lone walker on England’s highest mountain, Scafell Pike. She and John were able to search and clear vast tracts of land in treacherous conditions, until the walker was finally located. Without her and the other MRT members’ efforts, the outcome would have been very different.

Throughout her career Skye has also provided valuable community outreach as an ambassador for Search Dogs. She has helped to raise vital funds for the Search Dogs and Mountain Rescue Teams, as well as meeting people at talks and giving demonstrations of her skills to schools, youth groups and scouts, as well as at Rotary Clubs and Women’s Institute events.

Skye’s final callout was on 11 September 2020, for a search co-ordinated by Kendal MSRT.  Her team credited her with being the oldest and longest serving Search Dog in the Lake District, and quite possibly the whole of the UK. Now aged nearly 16, Skye is enjoying a full and happy retirement with John and his family. She still loves to get out on the hills and fells, her pace is just a little slower these days!

The citation for Skye’s award reads: ‘For an 11-year career of distinguished service with Mountain Search and Rescue Teams in the Lake District, 2009-2020’.

PDSA Animal Awards Programme

PDSA’s Animal Awards Programme was instituted in 1943 by the charity’s founder, Maria Dickin, CBE. She believed that if animals were recognised for their heroic actions and the vital roles they play in society, it would help to raise their status, ensuring they are better treated. The charity continues this legacy today with the world’s leading Animal Awards Programme.

The PDSA Order of Merit, instituted in 2014, is one of three major awards granted by the charity. It recognises animals who display outstanding devotion above and beyond normal companionship, and animal acts that symbolise their special relationship with humans. It has become recognised as the animals’ OBE and to date has been awarded to 24 dogs (including Skye) and 12 horses.

For more information on the Medals and recipients visit www.pdsa.org.uk/Medals.