4 out of 5 “Wroos” for Scent of the Missing

Posted May 19 2011, 7:00 am in , , , , , , , , ,

When I was about sixteen, neighbors who didn’t know they were having twins welcomed two newborns home. I, of course, tripped over myself in my zeal to baby-sit. The new parents were shell-shocked for the first few weeks with buying two of everything, but one thing they did NOT have to worry about was their dog, Reno, adjusting to the new arrivals. Though Reno, a weimariner, was there first, she took her new role as protector over the babies quite seriously. One day, she stood guard in front of their carriage and refused to let me – her neighbor since she’d been born – pass to my own home. With ears shifted back, teeth bared, paws planted, she growled at me from deep inside her gut until the babies’ father stepped outside and told her to stand down. As the babies grew, Reno’s role as protector never wavered. When the twins were learning to walk and cruising along furniture, we heard Reno cry that high-pitched pain yelp. We looked, found a baby standing on one of her ears. She never budged, instinctively knowing she’d hurt him if she dared move.

I have never owned a dog (my son is highly allergic). I never appreciated how much effort goes into training an animal for basic commands like “sit” or “heel,” let alone the ability to defy instinct, as Reno did, so this month’s Book Hungry selection was absolutely jaw-dropping.

Susannah Charleson, author of Scent of the Missing and owner of Puzzle, the star of the book, writes with an uncanny ability to involve all of the readers’ senses – appropriately and especially, scent. In Scent, Susannah takes us along on her journey to first acquire and then train Puzzle for search and rescue duty. Now, even a dog neophyte like me knows all breeds have their own temperament, their own special abilities. But Susannah writes of her dog family as having personalities. I believe she had about six dogs living in her house at one time – mostly Pomeranians she’d rescued from death penalties. She shows us how the dogs learned to adjust to Puzzle’s arrival and how Puzzle learned to love her.

This was perhaps the best part of this book – how characteristics inherent to Puzzle’s breed as well as those attributable to immaturity could be finessed into those of a trusted rescue animal. For proof, Susannah shares a personal experience in which Puzzle’s daily walk turned into a life-saving moment when she tripped and knocked herself unconscious on the street. Puzzle never left her side, a moment of deep significance for Susannah, who wrote moments before this incident, “Heel, Stop, Stay, Wait. I’d be happy for improvement on even one of these.”

Another event I found compelling was Puzzle’s snake-proofing training. Since SAR dogs are asked to search in all sorts of hostile environments, snake-proofing training is a requirement. But poor Puzzle didn’t wait for training. She found a snake in her own backyard. As Susannah taps away at her keyboard, a poisoned Puzzle whines at the gate, and manages to open it. Susannah writes she should feel annoyed that Puzzle ignored her Wait command but quickly realizes the dog is suffering. With Puzzle’s head swollen and breathing impaired, Susannah rushes her to an emergency vet for treatment. How is it possible for the same animal who knew to obey a Wait command when Susannah fell in the street to also know to disobey that command following a snake bite?

If I had to find fault with the book, it’s that there weren’t enough rescue missions chronicled. Susannah instead chose to focus on Puzzle’s training, though her account of the Challenger disaster was chilling. I came away from this book rethinking my belief that human beings are the only animal with true intelligence. As Susannah chronicled her evolving relationship with Puzzle, I learned one more thing.

I want a dog.

Have you read this book? If so, tell me what you think. If you have a dog, do you think you and your dog would make a good SAR team? Leave me a comment and don’t forget to read my fellow Book Hungry members’ reviews of this incredible book. Follow the links on your right.



6 responses to “4 out of 5 “Wroos” for Scent of the Missing”

  1. Vinny P says:

    Woooo! Thats me! Im the little boy who stood on her ears!!

    …I miss my Reno… =(

    She was one of a kind!

  2. Patty says:

    Yep, it was you! You were a beast! We had to pull you off poor Reno more than once when you tried to ride her.

    And Angela! Her first words were “Puppy, no!”

  3. abby says:

    holy cow, patty. this is one incredible review. it was more fun reading this than the book and i really enjoyed the book!

  4. Kelly B says:

    I love the connection between pet and owner. I am a cat person. Mainly because with our schedules felines are just easier. I don’t have to let them out and they are very independent. That being said, they make me smile every day and I would not trade any one of them for another. Pets bring so much to us and even though none of mine could rescue strangers, they rescue me everyday that I am feeling down, or sad, or just plain not in a good mood.

    I am thinking I don’t even need to finish the book now that I have read this great review.

  5. Patty says:

    Thank you, Kelly! I had cats while growing up. Dusty, Friskie and OJ. Friskie framed me for a crime I never committed – the theft of my sister’s stuffed animal. The little devil learned how to open closet doors!