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Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog Paperback – January 19, 2011
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
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An unforgettable memoir from a search-and-rescue pilot and her spirited canine partner
In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, Susannah Charleson clipped a photo from the newspaper of 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. Once she qualified to train a dog of her own, she adopted Puzzle, a strong, bright Golden Retriever puppy who exhibited unique aptitudes as a working dog but who was less interested in the role of compliant house pet. Scent of the Missing is the story of Susannah and Puzzleâs adventures as they search for the missingâa lost teen, an Alzheimerâs patient wandering in the cold, signs of the crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disasterâand unravel the mystery of the bond between humans and dogs.
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The book is well written, but somehow, I missed the click to really bond with dog or owner. What I also find frustrating, is that many search stories end after the search, and you never hear what eventually happened. In a murder case, for instance, it would be nice to know whether the killer ever got apprehended. So yes, it is an interesting book, but don't expect to learn too much about seach and rescue dogs or read really moving stories. One good thing: Puzzle won't die, although it is not a complete all's well that ends well.
Additionally, if you are an animal lover and have ever had a very special, close relationship with an animal that is not just your pet, but more a member of your family and the whole of your heart, you will read along, nodding your head, smiling, laughing, and crying as you recognize her descriptions of all the sweet, beautiful little things that are so remarkable about that kind of unconditional love and bond between human and animal ~ things that you have experienced yourself, but have never been able to put into words.
You also realize right from the get-go that this is an extraordinarily intelligent, multi-talented, strong, determined, sensitive woman, who not only volunteers her SAR efforts, but who is also a pilot, pilot instructor, and now, a beautiful writer. During search and rescue missions, she is there in whatever capacity that is needed. When her beeper goes off and she hits the road in a well practiced, precise 20 minutes, bringing Puzzle with her and expecting to use her search and rescue skills on the ground with her dog, but when she is requested instead to pilot around the area for hours on end, she doesn't hesitate to accommodate.
She is sensitive to the missing victims and their families in her writing and goes into just enough detail that you get the heart wrenching gist of the tragedy, but she does not sensationalize the tragedy to the point of exploitation. In some of the other reviews I've read, people wanted more of the gory details of each tragedy and count it against her that she did not give them those details. That's not the kind of book this is.
It's more about the monumental, Herculean efforts these people and their dogs go through from training, testing, and then working a mission in order to offer a service to those most unfortunate among us.
It's about learning how to communicate against unspeakable conditions with your dog in order to save a life, or find the missing.
It's about trust, love, and unbreakable bonds with your canine partner.
And, for me, the best parts of this book were her detailed observations about her dog: from the quizzical raised eyebrow and what it means; the furrowed eyebrow and what message that conveys; the relaxed trotting around compared to the stiffened stance, nose in the air indicating a find - to the prancing Alpha dog play time between Puzzle and her other dogs and cats; the clearly exhibited frustration of Puzzle when her human partner wasn't catching on quickly enough to what Puzzle was trying to tell her; the things Puzzle was never taught but was smart enough to figure out on her own to the surprise and amazement of her human partner; the many things Puzzle taught her human partner; and the most enjoyable of all: the laugh out loud moments when the author would describe her dog's expression and interpret it in words so that we readers could get the full story from Puzzle's point of view.
I loved this book. I read it from cover to cover, and I frequently read certain passages over and over again just for the shear high it gave me. I fell completely in love with Puzzle, her fellow Pomeranians, Maddie the cat, and all the other SAR dogs. I cried when some of them passed. I developed enormous respect for these wonderful dogs and their dedicated human partners. Despite the tragedies - both of the hapless victims and the author's own devastations, this was still a feel-good book in the end. You realize that as long as there are these dogs and these people doing what they do best out of their own selfless convictions, it makes the world a little less dark.
Like some others, I would welcome another installment of Susannah and Puzzle's later work and stories of life, more searches and more about training and the interactions between the S&R team members and the people they work with and for. Some have said she's a bit heavy on detail, yet I found the descriptions to be fascinating in their own right. Rappelling off a high roof, yikes! Doing so with a dog -- no way! But they do it. Searches inside recently burned buildings made my lungs burn at the thought, yet these teams do it all the time. Her stories about interactions between the various dogs are intriguing, too.