by Catherine Lutz

When Snowmass ski patroller Dan Berg got a phone call out of the blue offering to outfit all the Aspen Snowmass patrol dogs with new gear, he admits he was skeptical — “What’s the catch?” he thought. But Berg, who is in charge of the Snowmass patrol dogs, quickly realized the very generous offer was genuine, coming from the heart from a very special organization.

The Spikes K9 Fund was founded by retired Navy SEAL James Hatch, who had worked with combat dogs on several deployments — and whose life had been saved by a dog who lost its own. Since dedicating himself to properly outfitting and caring for working dogs, Hatch and the Spikes K9 Fund have helped 547 dogs so far.
Most of the organization’s work is with police and military dogs, so Berg and the Aspen Snowmass patrol dogs — there are eight of them, plus a puppy in training, that are specially trained to find avalanche victims and do other search and rescue work — can count themselves especially lucky to be recipients of the specialized K9 Storm work vests and Rex Specs dog glasses. Apparently, someone at Spikes had seen a CNN piece on the Snowmass patrol dogs earlier this winter, and from that, decided to make the offer.

For those not intimately aware of what a patrol dog does, it’s not obvious how important the proper gear is to the canines’ work. K9 Storm, a Canadian company, flew its staffers to Aspen to measure the dogs for the custom, load-bearing harnesses, which arrived a few weeks later. Thanks to this custom fit, and because they’re load bearing, Berg explains, “they give the handler an amazing amount of control over the dog.”
This is especially critical should the dog need to be rappelled into a search situation or evacuated off a chairlift, or for the larger dogs that can be more unwieldy to handle. The vests also feature an integrated Kevlar panel that protects the canines from anything they might run into in their search work — sharp branches in avalanche debris, for example. And the Rex Specs dog-specific sunglasses protect them from rotor wash from helicopters and snow blindness.

So what do the Aspen Snowmass dogs think about their new outfits?

Berg replied simply, “None of the dogs seemed to have any problem with them. They all seem pretty happy.”

To learn more about the Spikes K9 Fund, click here.

Published January 2018

About the Author

Catherine Lutz
Catherine Lutz


Catherine Lutz is an Aspen-based freelance writer and editor who helps craft stories and content for the Aspen Institute, Aspen Sojourner magazine, Powder magazine, and many others. An avid skier, paddleboarder, and mountain biker, she’s now vicariously experiencing a second childhood through her two young children in one of the best places on the planet to raise a family.

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