BOOKWORM: Author trained dog to sniff out the missing

“Scent of the Missing” by Susannah Charleson, c. 2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, 304 pages.

A valued member of your household has a big job.

He’s in charge of security, which he does well, but there’s more. He’s also part vacuum cleaner, taste-tester in the kitchen, part psychiatrist, entertainer and exercise machine. He doubles as baby-sitter in a pinch and, if allowed on the sofa, he’s an interior decorator.

Best news: he works cheap. All he needs are treats, a behind-the-ear skritch and a “good boy, good job” now and then.

No doubt, it’s a dog’s life but in the new book “Scent of the Missing” by Susannah Charleson, you’ll meet a pup whose job is a life-or-death matter.

As a flight instructor hired to do overhead searches, Charleson became interested in Canine Search and Rescue. At first, she volunteered as an assistant in trail, whose job is to follow the dogs and handlers, record observations and call in important finds.

It was fascinating and it wasn’t long before Charleson began to think about having her own SAR dog.

“On any given day in America,” she says, “there are as many as 100,000 active missing persons cases.” Because dogs have way more scent receptors in their noses than humans do and because dogs are willing to climb, slink and tunnel through places we can’t go, police and sheriff’s departments often go to the dogs.

As you might imagine, though, not every dog is cut out for SAR. After consulting teammates and breeders, Charleson settled on a golden retriever, a breed that loves to work and doesn’t look scary to a small child or confused adult. Thus it was that Puzzle came to live with Charleson, a posse of pomeranians and a handful of cats.

It’s imperative that Search and Rescue dogs learn to work in a variety of situations, so Charleson started immediately to train Puzzle to understand scents, avoid snakes and remain comfortable around other dogs and firemen. Meanwhile, Charleson was learning to trust her dog.

While there was no doubt that Puzzle loved her job, Charleson always wondered if Puzzle loved her. Was it enough that she could “read” her dog and understand Puzzle’s body language, or was Charleson missing something? When illness and injury struck, she learned the answer.

With thoughtfully poetic prose, careful observance and nail-biting case stories, Charleson will make every dog owner see their furball at the end of the couch in a different light.

Your pooch has a good sniffer. Could he go CSI with you?

Probably not. Within this memoir, Charleson gives readers a sense of how much time, effort, dedication, and discomfort goes into becoming a SAR team member. Though she can’t help but make everything seem exciting and just a tiny bit glamorous, she also points out that 80 percent of SAR class members quit before the class is half over.

I loved “Scent of the Missing” and I think that, even if you’ve got a couch pup-tato whose sole reason for being is to shed on the cushions, you’ll love it, too.

Seek. Good job.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.“Scent of the Missing” by Susannah Charleson, c. 2010, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $26, 304 pages.

A valued member of your household has a big job.

He’s in charge of security, which he does well, but there’s more. He’s also part vacuum cleaner, taste-tester in the kitchen, part psychiatrist, entertainer and exercise machine. He doubles as baby-sitter in a pinch and, if allowed on the sofa, he’s an interior decorator.

Best news: he works cheap. All he needs are treats, a behind-the-ear skritch and a “good boy, good job” now and then.

No doubt, it’s a dog’s life but in the new book “Scent of the Missing” by Susannah Charleson, you’ll meet a pup whose job is a life-or-death matter.

As a flight instructor hired to do overhead searches, Charleson became interested in Canine Search and Rescue. At first, she volunteered as an assistant in trail, whose job is to follow the dogs and handlers, record observations and call in important finds.

It was fascinating and it wasn’t long before Charleson began to think about having her own SAR dog.

“On any given day in America,” she says, “there are as many as 100,000 active missing persons cases.” Because dogs have way more scent receptors in their noses than humans do and because dogs are willing to climb, slink and tunnel through places we can’t go, police and sheriff’s departments often go to the dogs.

As you might imagine, though, not every dog is cut out for SAR. After consulting teammates and breeders, Charleson settled on a golden retriever, a breed that loves to work and doesn’t look scary to a small child or confused adult. Thus it was that Puzzle came to live with Charleson, a posse of pomeranians and a handful of cats.

It’s imperative that Search and Rescue dogs learn to work in a variety of situations, so Charleson started immediately to train Puzzle to understand scents, avoid snakes and remain comfortable around other dogs and firemen. Meanwhile, Charleson was learning to trust her dog.

While there was no doubt that Puzzle loved her job, Charleson always wondered if Puzzle loved her. Was it enough that she could “read” her dog and understand Puzzle’s body language, or was Charleson missing something? When illness and injury struck, she learned the answer.

With thoughtfully poetic prose, careful observance and nail-biting case stories, Charleson will make every dog owner see their furball at the end of the couch in a different light.

Your pooch has a good sniffer. Could he go CSI with you?

Probably not. Within this memoir, Charleson gives readers a sense of how much time, effort, dedication, and discomfort goes into becoming a SAR team member. Though she can’t help but make everything seem exciting and just a tiny bit glamorous, she also points out that 80 percent of SAR class members quit before the class is half over.

I loved “Scent of the Missing” and I think that, even if you’ve got a couch pup-tato whose sole reason for being is to shed on the cushions, you’ll love it, too.

Seek. Good job.

The Bookworm is Terri Schlichenmeyer. Terri has been reading since she was 3 years old and never goes anywhere without a book. She lives in West Salem, Wis., with her two dogs and 9,500 books.

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