Scent of the Missing

| March 26, 2014 | 0 Comments
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About The Author

Susannah Charleson and her Golden Retriever partner, Puzzle

Susannah Charleson and Puzzle

Susannah Charleson has written magazine and newsletter articles, multimedia productions, PSAs, news stories, commercials, feature and movie reviews for commercial radio, and more.She is a flight instructor and canine search-and-rescue team member in the United States. Her search partner, Puzzle, is a Golden Retriever certified for the rescue/recovery of missing persons in urban, wilderness, disaster, and scent discrimination searches. Susannah and Puzzle share their home with a rabble of Pomeranians, cats, and a fish named Sound Bite.

Susannah’s first book, Scent of the Missing: Love and Partnership with a Search and Rescue Dog, was published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in April 2010. This critically well-received book also appeared on the New York Times, Dallas Morning News, Amazon and Denver Post Bestseller lists, with excerpts appearing in D Magazine, Bark, and other online venues. Scent of the Missing is available in audio formats from Blackstone Audio and on Kindle. Portugese, Polish, Czechoslovakian and Chinese editions are in production now.

For more information on the book, including a video trailer with Puzzle working in the field, visit the Scent of the Missing website.

The Scent of the Missing is a well-written, engaging book that not only highlights the relationships of dogs with people but also educates readers about Search and Rescue (SAR). The book is written from the author’s point of view and includes personal stories about her life, which range from humorous to tearful. She does a wonderful job describing the various antics and thoughts of her furry companions. Susannah often discusses the humorous nature of her dogs. Such as, how one does the “doggie mambo” at dinner time or another whose chief concern is food “when’s it coming, how much is coming, and by the way, you could give a guy a treat now and then” or another that gives a solitary bark to be let in from outside with a little upward inflection like a query “errrrr, now?”.

The book artfully alternates between SAR training, Susannah’s life with her dogs, and SAR deployments so the flow of the book keeps you interested and waiting for the next chapter – Susannah’s writing style makes you feel like you’re right there with her living through the events. The book begins by following her activities as an SAR assistant to set the stage. Then the fun begins when she gets her Golden Retriever puppy, Puzzle, from Mystic Goldens to train for SAR. She delves into her journey with Puzzle despite the contrarians who warn her that “Goldens are soft dogs … can be easily wounded… so eager to please that a sharp word can destroy them … so easy to break their hearts and spirits.” I was entertained by the early stages of her training all the way through the more advanced stages. Sprinkled throughout, she discusses some of their challenges, such as, simple obedience (like pulling on the lead) which we are all too familiar with and Puzzle’s talent and drive to work coupled with her lacking desire to be a house pet.

Dogs truly have a remarkable sense for scents. We were taking a walk with our dogs the other day when at the same time, all four dogs stopped with noses to the ground and followed the scent trail while we were clueless if it was another dog, a rabbit, or food. Their noses rarely lie – trust the dog – the author emphasizes this as well.

Throughout the book I find myself cheering for the SAR teams to accomplish their missions and for Susannah and Puzzle to pass their certification tests, all the while strengthening their bond as partners.  The definition of success for a SAR team during a deployment may not actually be finding the missing person(s) but having the dog do its job in identifying whether the scent of the missing person exists in the area specified.  There are challenges in training a SAR dog as they must learn to be obedient to their handler, not overly dependent, and stubborn enough to insist when the handler makes a wrong choice on a search and the scent is in another direction. The dog must be confident enough to search in front of their handler and the handler must have enough trust to let the dog work. Susannah describes this relationship as “collaborative”, being partners on a team.

Overall, I enjoyed the book – it’s a very easy read that made me truly admire the dedication and hearts of SAR volunteers (no, they don’t get paid for this; they do this for fun!). They do such amazing things partnered with their talented dogs to help others in need.

Susannah’s book inspired a TV movie by the same title, Scent of the Missing. It is centered upon a strong and tenacious K-9 search and rescue officer and her golden retriever, Rocket. The pair brave dire conditions to assist law enforcement with difficult cases. The movie truly seeks to capture the energy and partnership shared between Susannah and Puzzle as well as the importance of search and rescue.

If you’ve read the book or seen the movie, I’m interested in what you thought of them – please share your comments below.

Category : Book Reviews


About the Author ()

Lorraine has owned Labradors for over 20 years and has bred them about half that time. A good day for Lorraine is experiencing the unbridled joy of her labs greeting her (in the morning, after work, or even after a short trip to the store), witnessing the pure happiness of her labs in the field retrieving or exploring on a hike, and snuggling with (or under) them on the couch at night. A great day is a good day (just described) plus having a litter of puppies around!

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