In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Susannah Charleson clipped a photo from the newspaper: an exhausted canine handler, face buried in the fur of his search-and-rescue dog. A dog lover and pilot with search experience herself, Susannah was so moved by the image that she decided to volunteer with a local canine team and soon discovered firsthand the long hours, nonexistent pay, and often heart-wrenching results they face.
Still, she felt the call, and once she qualified to train a dog of her own, she adopted Puzzle, a strong, bright Golden Retriever puppy who exhibited unique aptitude as a working dog but who was less interested in the role of compliant house pet. Puzzle's willfulness and high drive, both assets in the field, challenged even Susannah, who had raised dogs for years.
Scent of the Missing is the story of Susannah and Puzzle's adventures and of the close relationship they forge as they search for the lost--a teen gone missing, an Alzheimer's patient wandering in the cold, signs of the crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disaster. From the earliest air-scent lessons to her final mastery of whole-body dialogue, Puzzle emerges as a fully collaborative partner in a noble enterprise that unfolds across the forests, plains, and cityscapes of the Southwest. Along the way, Susannah and Puzzle learn to read the clues in the field, and in each other, to accomplish together the critical work neither could do alone and to unravel the mystery of the human-canine bond.
Title: Scent of the Missing: Love & Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog
Author: Susannah Charleson
Genre: Adult Non-fiction, Memoir
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication Date: April 14, 2010
My Rating: 5/5
This book chronicles the life of Puzzle, from puppyhood, to training, and ends with her certification for search and rescue. We also get to see the human-canine bond flourish, during the training sessions as well as at home, between both Susannah, and Puzzle. Scent of the Missing takes an in-depth look at what it takes to both volunteer, and train a search and rescue dog. Puzzle is still a mischevious puppy, and we get to see the curious and playful side of puppyhood clash with the seriousness of training.
Puzzle already from birth had the markers for being a service dog. She has an affable nature, and is willing to search. Through many trials and tests, she has honed her skill. Search and rescue is not up to just the dogs though. The handlers have to learn what signals their dogs are sending out, if they are working a trail with no scent, old scent, or fresh scent. They need to know exactly what each twitch of their tail or nose means, and they need to be able to keep up. Search and Rescue is definitely a team effort. It is up to the handler to decide whether or not they are going to respond to certain calls. Some areas are exceedingly dangerous to both the dogs, and the handlers. These teams put their lives on the line to track missing persons, as they track anywhere they are needed. Conditions are almost always hazardous, though in one chapter, one of the extreme calls mentioned was one where the area had to be swept for bombs and cyanide before the teams would be allowed in.
The sacrifice that the teams make is astounding. They pour their time, and money into an occupation that is mainly volunteer, with the hope that they can make a difference and help those in need.
Charleson writes a no-holds-barred account of what life is like for the search and rescue teams. Through her writing, and Puzzle's training, we get a glimpse of what is entailed for those who are in the search and rescue field. The misery, exhaustion, defeat, when cases are still ongoing, and yet, we also get to see the joy, when they successfully find someone, and bring them home.
All in all, this was an authentic representation of the life of the Search and Rescue teams, and it was also a heart-wrenching read. The teams are absolutely dedicated to finding and helping those in need. The dogs are brilliant, and they are phenomenal in their tracking. In the words of Charleson, trust the dog.
Many thanks goes to Julie from FSB Media for sending me this book to review. I received this book free of charge in exchange for an honest review.