A RESCUE dog is set to return the favour as proud trainers say he is one of their best students in training to be a search and rescue dog.

It has been a hard road for Bailey - a two-year-old golden Labrador.

The big-hearted pooch was taken in by the Dog's Trust after he was found as a stray with some describing as what appeared to be a lost cause.

But since being picked up off the cold streets, Bailey's life has seen a remarkable one-eighty turn.

Now the dog who was rescued looks set to be the one who does the rescuing as he looks to beat the odds and come a rescue dog for the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service.

It took just one phone call to see Bailey's fortunes change forever, going from homeless to housed with a new career to boot.

Louise Crawford, who work for the Dogs Trust as an Animal Welfare Scheme Co-ordinator reached out to UK International Search and Rescue and other services to ask if anyone was looking for a new search dog.

It was then when Graham Currie, a dog handler and a Crew Manager in the Urban Search and Rescue for the Essex County Fire and Rescue Service stumbled upon his latest recruit.

As a member of UK International Search and Rescue, Graham heard Bailey's story and decided to take a trip to Loughborough to see him.

Graham said: "I'd been looking for a dog for just under a year when Louise put out Bailey's details so I went up to Loughborough Dogs Trust the following day.

"After testing Bailey's drive for a tennis ball and checking he had no aggression towards other dogs or people, I offered to take him on a six-week trial.

"The biggest thing was getting him in the van because he associated it with being taken to a compound, but within 24 hours he was taught to associate it with fun.

"By the third day, I was 95 per cent sure he was the one.

"In the vehicle barn, there was rugby ball on a ledge above the gym weights and he wouldn't give up until he got it – that's the kind of determination we are looking for in a search dog.

"I was reluctant to take a labrador as they can be greedy and distracted with food, and I was looking for a springer, cocker or sprocker spaniel bitch because I've found they are less stubborn and easier to train.

"Bailey has got that drive though and he's not greedy, he'd take a ball over a bowl of food every time."

Bailey made the trip from Loughborough to the Urban Search and Rescue team's base in Lexden, Colchester.

According to Graham, Bailey is on a fast-track to success, having excelled at search and rescue activities.

For the past month, Bailey has been taking part in training, which inclined training in buildings and rubble piles with police and national assessors.

Graham added: "To start with, we were hiding tennis balls to see if he would find them without being scared of the rubble.

"He is one of the most natural search dogs I've ever seen - he's like a mountain goat! Nothing fazes him, he has no fears or phobias.

"A police trainer and colleague said if we could clone this dog all our problems would be solved.

"A dog that cost us £185 has has turned out to be the most incredible creature."

Already, Bailey has got a reputation with the fire service and now Graham is planning to use Bailey to take over from Jarvis, an eight-year-old cocker spaniel.

Jarvis is a a live scent search dog for the service but has been earmarked for retirement.

Bailey will become one of 20 dogs used by USAR teams up and down the country, and he will be part of UKISAR, attending disaster zones across the globe.

It usually takes 18 months to three years to train a dog but Bailey, whose nicknames are 'Beast from the East' and the 'Polar Bear', because of his size, could be "on the run" as early as next April.

Graham said: "He's already doing 'blind searching', using his nose to find people.

"He searches buildings so methodically; he'll go in the first door in the building or corridor, check all the rooms attached to it and go back to the corridor and do the same on the next door, and so on."

Bailey has also fitted in well with the base's current crop of four-legged friends.

Graham has three other dogs - Jarvis, ECFRS’s search and rescue cocker spaniel, Fizz, ECFRS’s Fire Investigation sprocker spaniel, and Ailith, which is Celtic for Alice, a 12-and-a-half-year-old springer spaniel who came from the Scottish Highlands.

She is a pet but has been taught to do basic searching.

Graham added: "We treat them like dogs. They can go and play, chase each other, swim in rivers and the sea, but as soon as the search harness is on, they know they have work to do.

"We've landed on our feet with Bailey – and so has he, because he has a lovely home now."

Having seen Bailey go from rags to riches, Louise Crawford is over the moon and said she is glad she spotted Bailey's "fantastic" potential and is delighted to see he is so happy.

She said: "Despite being found as a stray, he is a confident dog, comfortable going into different environments and situations, happy to travel in vehicles and importantly he loves to chase a ball, which is a fantastic reward for him.

"He is doing an amazing job and he is really loved by Graham and is truly part of his family. We are delighted and super proud.”