This is the story I promised...it, of course, is a true one and because of ethics I leave out the names etc.
In 1992 my life began a journey into public service. At my side, as in days gone by, walked a small black courageous dog.......
The days between Christmas and New Years are filled with parties, friends, happy memories, gifts and good food. This year had started much the same, but one phone call was about to change things forever.
I had hosted a party with most of my doggie friends, and the Search and Rescue crew in fine form. The phone rang and the soft voice asked for the search dogs. The room went quiet....waiting for the request all knew would come. "Two small boys are missing in a car that has plunged off of a bridge into 25 feet of cold water, can you COME?" " Yes, we'll be on the road in 20 minutes. My team is here and the drive is about an hour."
The night was totally black and the temperatures were falling fast. Midnight and 15įF. The police had recovered the car from the black water with one small body of the 5 year old inside. The brother, age 2 was still missing and believed to have been thrown from the car on impact. We needed to search the banks and black water below us.
The mist swirls and dances in the cold night air, making the scent hard to locate. Three boats work a grid along the narrow river channel, moving carefully across the current and into the wind. Dogs lift noses into the wind and lower again to the water. The small black dog leans far forward to look deep into the moving water, using that small Schip nose to hunt for traces of scent. He tests each rising mist column and moves on to the next. ALERT! He moves to the left side and hangs to touch the water. He turns to touch my face and whine softly. Back to the side of the boat to touch the water again and moves slowly along the boat side as we leave the scent area.
Find...Find I whisper...show me, Wooly. We turn the boat and swing again closer to the bank...a dollar bill can be seen hung on a branch just below the water...still he moves up the current and turns again to look behind as we pass the scent location.
Each pass of the boat, I watch the big red Doberman, Bubba and his human partner Sharon do the same section. A loud bark rumbles deep and echoes in the night. He, too, turns to look back as they pass and then the Shepherd, Jasmine, gives her alert as well. It has been over an hour and the temperatures have continued to fall. An ice storm is on its way. I beg Wooly for one more pass as he huddles for warmth against my chest. I need to find this child. My emotions drive the black dog as once again we alert in the same area. The same alert zone. We return to shore to warm ourselves and dogs, as the divers go to work. Soon we will have to search again.
As we rest we hear the noise and see the flood lights. "We've found him...50 feet from your alert area."
We feel empty...he is dead from injuries from the crash and we cannot bring him back. But we feel full and blessed too, for all the training over the last 3 years has paid off. Once again we can at least give peace and closure to a grieving family. Slowly we put our equipment away and hug the warm bodies close to us. They have done their jobs well and they are more than pets, they are extensions of ourselves, our partners.
On the way home the ice storm that has held off all night begins to come with the light. We send prayers to the Creator for holding off the weather and giving us these special dogs.
As I drive, I think back to the long training hours. It takes two years to train a dog to search and at least one more to train water search. The handlers must know First Aid, map and compass, read water and air movement, and how to train a dog. The dogs must have courage, drive, problem solving, and love other people and dogs. A willingness to please, but to be able to work independently. All of which describes a Schipperke.
I have found that they train faster, learning things quicker that the other breeds. Small, yes, but very fast and agile. I think of the older dog, Wooly (Toni's Wooly Bear CD,TT,CGC,SAR/A ) and his son Fox (Wooly's Foxy Image CD,OA,TT,CGC,SAR/A), and the young dog started at only 8 weeks of age, Magic (DHS Dunwitch Magic O'Kanbric NA,CGC, SAR/B). Will either be as good as Wooly? Only time and training will tell. Each will have their own specialty. As Wooly's is water, Fox has shown the talent for Disaster searches and the puppy, a clean slate to write upon. I need a cadaver dog, able to find the bodies of missing or murdered people. Maybe this Schipperke will serve man in that way.
The house is a welcome sight. I have been up for 28 hours. I shower and curl up on the bed with a few black warm bodies to comfort me. I count my blessings and thank the Lord once more for a safe return for myself and the dogs. A cold nose touches my face and then he snuggles deep beside me. We have shared our deepest emotions and drift off to sleep...perchance to dream...of a happier tomorrow.
As a post scrip to this story, I want to add that the child had just returned from a hospital where he had beat cancer. The mother had realized her son was a special needs child and fixed it so there would be no more children. Just those two. It was a very hard search as the community had helped this family and wanted that child back. There is a human mammalian dive reflex where they stop breathing and the brain holds the ability to restart if warmed slowly. It was this thought that kept me at it in the cold long night. If we could find him fast enough. But it was not meant to be. Both were lost forever.
It was a very hard search, and Wooly gave me comfort and courage to keep trying. He is a great gift. Toniís Wooly Bear CD ASCA/CD TT CGC SAR/A.
Pat and the sarschips
The music you are listening to is "I Get By With a Little Help From My Friends."
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