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November 28, 2022

Scent of the Missing: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

Scent of the Missing, by Susannah Charleson.

As we head out, I wonder what my own dog will bring to the work, to the team, and to me. I like the thought of a long drive home with a Golden snoring belly-up in the back of the car; a good dog who has worked well. A partner. A friend. After a search like this one, that companionship must take away a little of the ache. - from Scent of the Missing, page 17 -

Susannah Charleson first found herself drawn to search and rescue through the air -- piloting a small plane on searches for missing people and in disasters; but later, a dog lover and someone who found she liked the work "on the ground," she decided to certify a search and rescue (SAR) dog with the Metro Area Rescue K9 unit in Dallas, Texas. Scent of the Missing is Susannah's story of that journey with Golden Retriever Puzzle by her side.

From the first page of this heartfelt book, I was hooked -- and not just because I too have traveled that long, difficult, heart-rending and rewarding journey from novice to mission-ready SAR K9 handler, but because Charleson can write. She writes from the heart, but it is never sappy or overly emotional. Her prose is descriptive, intuitive, and honest. She writes about the big searches (like the search for human remains following the Columbia tragedy), but she also gives the reader details of the "small" searches, the searches that no one ever hears of except in the small town with a child or adult gone missing. The stories she tells are the ones that every searcher remembers -- the ones where the person is not found, or where they are found days later deceased. She shares the heavy weight of responsibility which all searchers carry, and the mix of emotions which accompany every search.

Reading Charleson's book, I was drawn back to my own experiences of being a K9 handler -- the long trainings in all kinds of weather and conditions, the 2:00 am "wake up call" when my pager would sound and I would be instantly on alert, the fatigue, the hard work ... and ultimately the incredible partnership with my dog. Charleson effortlessly captures all of that in Scent of the Missing.

Dog lovers will love this book and fall in love with Puzzle, Charleson's adorable, full-of-life Golden Retriever who takes to the field naturally and challenges her partner from the start. The bond that develops between handler and dog is beautiful and hard won. And, of course, for anyone who has worked in the field of search and rescue (or is considering volunteering for a team in their area) Scent of the Missing should be required reading. Despite my tears at times reading Charleson's words, despite the fact that it made me ache with missing my own SAR dog Caribou, I am glad I read this beautifully written book.

Highly recommended.

Five stars out of five.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".

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Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2010-12-20
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