Some of my best reads come from the What’s New shelf at the library, where I recently snagged Scent of the Missing, by Susannah Charleson.
Although I’m not a dog person as such, I’ve dog-sat several times. Our first doggie-guest was a rollicking, full-size, pink poodle named Susie, who obeyed so well that when I told her to go lay down while we ate dinner, she didn’t stir again until several hours later. When I suddenly remembered and called, “Susie, where are you?” up she popped, grinning, from her basket by the couch. Our second guest was a wiggly, white Lhasa Apso named Mendel. One day after I gave him a bath and let him out into the yard, novice that I was, he immediately rolled in the dirt! (Later I learned he was trying to dry off.) Our third dog-in-residence was an affectionate German Shepherd named Simba for his lion color, who got so excited every time we came home that he would jump for joy, his paws on our chests. While I’m obviously no authority on dog behavior, I am drawn to their stories.
Scent of the Missing is the poignant, sometimes funny and sometimes sad, first-person account of how Susannah (the author) adopts and trains Puzzle, a Golden Retriever, for Search and Rescue (SAR.) Immersed in the world of SAR, I learn dogs have between 200 and 230 million scent receptors, while we humans have only about 5 million. Able to distinguish, remember, and search for a particular person’s scent for hours, dogs are ideally suited to finding people. Indeed, they love to hear the “Find!” command even when it’s a game for training purposes. While the SAR incidents in this book intrigue me, the author’s passionate involvement with search dogs and their handlers, most of them volunteers, carry the story.
I particularly enjoy the way Susannah gets to know Puzzle as a wee pup, interprets her body language, and lets us in on her doggie thoughts as part of the entourage at home or as they work one-on-one during the arduous SAR training. Susannah writes of Puzzle learning to wait for a treat, “Sometimes she looks back at me with a teenager’s deadpan expression: What? she postures touchily. What?”*
Reading this insider’s chronicles has given me new respect for all dogs and particularly for those at work, whether they’re search dogs, patrol dogs, or the dogs that sniff our cars at the ferry terminal for drugs. Thank God for all the handlers, dogs, and other volunteers who search for the missing!
My hope is that the talented and skillful author is already at work on her next book.
*Susannah Charleson, Scent of the Missing (New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011) p. 143.