UK’s first Search Ferret goes operational

WMSAR today announces the first operational deployment for Toby, a 4 year old ferret who has been trained to international search standards by handler, Terry Bell.

Terry is an ex-Police Dog Handler who retired to North Shropshire in 2012 and has been volunteering with WMSAR’s animal search team since.

He started investigating the possibility of training up a ferret for rural search work after reading about successful tests using rats for search work in disasters since 2004.

A bond was struck between Terry and Toby – who he adopted from Whitchurch Ferret Rescue in November 2014 after the animal was captured raiding the rubbish bins behind a restaurant – and convinced the Trustees of WMSAR to invest in the training and development of the pair since.

The first deployment for Terry and Toby was yesterday, in the search for a 72 year old lady missing from her home in the Shropshire Hills with West Mercia Police.

Rodent SAR Wyoming training programme
Rodent SAR Wyoming training programme

This was a perfect opportunity to demonstrate and record the progress of the animal, whose ability to discriminate scents and follow trails is on a par with that of a dog, but whose training programme is significantly less time consuming. Terry was able to develop this training on a 2-week course with Rodent SAR Wyoming, which was subsidised by National Lottery funding.

Spokesperson for West Mercia Police’s Search Team, Sgt Kate Pole, shared her thoughts “It’s not often we get to try a genuinely new approach to finding vulnerable people, and we are open to new techniques if they don’t impede the investigation in any way. We trust WMSAR to offer a certified search service, and to see the pair in action searching field boundaries was very interesting”.

The search for the missing lady is ongoing, using traditional resources including WMSAR’s foot and quad teams, and the Police helicopter.

For more information on the work of Search Ferrets, see