Scent of the Missing
by Susannah Charleson
A dog lover and pilot with search experience herself, Susannah Charleson decided to volunteer with a local canine team and soon discovered firsthand the long hours, nonexistent pay, and often heart-wrenching results they face. Once she qualified to train a dog of her won, she got Puzzle, a Gold Retriever puppy who exhibited unique aptitudes as a working dog but who was less interested in the role of compliant house pet. Scent of the Missing is the story of Susannah and Puzzle's adventures as they search for the missing - a lost teen, an Alzheimer's patient, signs of the crew amid the debris of the space shuttle Columbia disaster - and unravel the mystery of the bond between humans and dogs. It's an unforgettable memoir from a search-and-rescue pilot and her spirited canine partner.
This book is interesting and informative, bouncing between stories from Susannah's experience training her own search dog and stories of Susannah's experience in the field, with and without her dog. The author has excellent way of telling a story and an eye for small details that really bring locations alive. She paints the efforts of Search and Rescue dogs and their handlers in a vivid light.
Search and Rescue (SAR) organizations are often made up entirely of unpaid volunteers, who give up their weekends and after-work hours to train dogs, and remain on-call at all times to respond to missing persons calls or calls to find bodies. Given the wide variety of situations search dogs face, their training is quite complex and time-intensive. It's a lot less glamorous than you might think :). Susannah's description of the recovery of wreckage (and fragments of human remains) from the space shuttle Columbia was horrifying, and the account of the tornado devastation around Moore, OK (from 1999) was especially sad, considering the recent tragedy there.
The book does suffer a few flaws in my eyes. A cryptic health crisis seems like a major twist in the last part of the book and we never know what is really going on. Another issue was that several of the searches described did not have clear outcomes. They just ended abruptly. In some ways this mirrors the way any searcher may have to deal with simply not having answers, but it would have been more cohesive to have some sort of resolutions. I was also hoping for a few more stories about the other dogs on the SAR team :). It would have been nice to get a better sense of the team that she spends all her time with.
All in all, definitely a worthy read for anybody who loves dogs and the work they do.