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Posts Tagged ‘Puzzle’

Central Florida sometimes seems like ground zero for missing persons. There are the Amber alerts that make the national news (Caylee Anthony, Haleigh Cummings) but also the local searches for elderly folk who have wandered away or the guy who went fishing and fell in a lake. And sadly, there are cold cases, like that of Jennifer Kesse, the smiling young woman who seemingly vanished into thin air four years ago.

Recently, 11-year-old Nadia Bloom was lost in the swampy woods behind her east Orange County subdivision for five days before she was found. Our TV stations aired periodic bulletins of the search with footage of helicopters, organized grid teams and rescue dogs. I remember watching one black Lab with an  SAR (search and rescue) vest scenting the air before he put his head to the ground and took off, his handler following.

Thanks to Susannah Charleson and her Golden Retriever named Puzzle, I now have a much better understanding and even more respect for what the Lab was doing. Scent of the Missing: Love & Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog is a real find for dog-lovers, or anybody who appreciates a well-written tale.  It makes me want to go “wroo,” the triumphant sound Puzzle makes when she’s found someone, whether working through a towering debris pile or sweeping through the wilderness in the dark.

“We go where law enforcement directs us,” writes Charleson, who works with an elite volunteer team out of Dallas. “We run behind search dogs who tell us their own truths in any given area — never here, was here, hers, not hers, blood, hair, bone, here, here, here.”

It may look like a great game to outsiders — and games are very much a part of a search dog’s training — but this is is tough and serious work, sometimes in the wake of disasters such as earthquakes or tornadoes, or at crime scenes or drownings.  A pilot and flight instructor, Charleson was inspired to become a field assistant for a SAR canine team after seeing a photograph of a weary Miami handler and his Golden in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing. Eventually she decides to run a dog of her own, and her search leads to a willful, blonde pup who causes consternation among Charleson’s pack of Poms and cats as she she grows into a skilled search dog.

Charleson fluently mixes the story of her and Puzzle’s training and adventures with information about SAR canine teams. We meet Puzzle’s smart and agile mentors, including German Shepherd Hunter and Shadow the Husky, and are on the scene of numerous searches, some with happy endings, others with no ending. A year before Puzzle was born, Charleson worked canine SAR when the space shuttle Columbia broke up over Texas, and her account of standing over a bit of bone in a frozen field will tear at your heart.

Mostly, though, Puzzle and her teammates will make you happy. Maybe even go “wroo.” I know that if I’m ever lost in the woods, I want to awakened by that joyful sound. 

Open Book: Susannah Charleson’s Scent of the Missing: Love & Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog is published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, which sent me an advance reading copy. Try and resist that cover. Good dog! Good book.

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