A MOUNTAIN rescue dog - who saved a freezing pensioner after a five-hour search - has tragically died.

Lake District Mountain Rescue and Keswick Mountain Rescue search dog, Bracken, has sadly died after nearly seven years of service.

The 13-year-old collie qualified as a search dog in July 2014 and officially retired in December 2020.

His owner of 12 years, Elly Whiteford, paid an emotional tribute online to her four-legged friend.

She said: “[Bracken] loved people and would lean against them for attention. He was steady and trusting, though stubborn and awkward when he didn’t want to do something but most of all fun loving and playful.

“As soon as I met this him I felt we bonded and I couldn’t tolerate the thought of anyone else having him.

“It was a natural progression to train Bracken as a search dog and he passed his introductory obedience test in May 2012.  He loved searching and was so excited when he found, he would bounce about and bark to get his toy reward.

READ MORE: Rescue dog Bracken puts paws up after six years of vital work on Lakes fells

“After steady progress and a few glitches, Bracken qualified as a search dog in July 2014 following a gruelling final mountain assessment that took us to the tops of the Coniston fells for nearly five hours.

The Westmorland Gazette: Bracken and Elly WhitefordBracken and Elly Whiteford (Image: Newsquest)

“He has been on boats, on chairlifts and flown in helicopters, all which he took in his stride, so long as he was with me, he trusted me to look after him.”

In Spring 2016, Bracken suffered an injury and his owner feared he may not work again. However, by December that year he was back on the fells again.

On his second callout after becoming operational, Bracken found a missing elderly man after five hours of searching in West Cumbria.

The gentleman, who was in a severely hypothermic state, but alive, was airlifted to hospital and to be with his family. 

“It is an amazing feeling when your dog finds, I was so proud of Bracken,” said Elly.

“He has had a wonderful, exciting life, working as a search dog with Keswick Mountain Rescue team, accompanying the team and teams across Cumbria, out in all weathers searching for missing people.

“I have many wonderful memories of all we did together, the places we have been and the adventures we have had, and even though you know the time is coming, it feels unreal and unimaginable to even consider saying goodbye.

“Having been such a big part of my life for so long, to just be gone is devastating and which only time can heal. He was my constant companion and partner, treading the fells with me, on mountain rescue callouts and searches for missing people.”